Accused Eagle River murderer appeals case, heads to trial

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 - 20:39
  • Nesbett Courthouse in Anchorage on June 20, 2017. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • David Joseph Thomas, 30, at a sentencing hearing in Anchorage Superior Court April 20, 2017. Thomas had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for strangling 19-year-old Linda Anne Martz Bower in September 2014. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

As David Thomas’s scheduled trial date creeps closer, the Eagle River man accused of fatally strangling his teenage girlfriend is asking the Alaska Court of Appeals to intervene.

An Aug. 22 hearing in Anchorage District Court was the latest in a series of court dates that have stretched on for nearly three years.

Thomas, now 31, was arrested in September 2014 after police found 19-year-old Linda Anne Martz Bower’s body in the back of his car in the parking lot of an Eagle River drugstore. Bower had been trying to break up with Thomas, her friends and family later said. He strangled her sometime over the course of a long night filled with drugs and alcohol, according to court documents. Thomas was charged with first and second-degree murder for Bower’s death.

In December 2016, Thomas accepted a plea deal, agreeing to plead guilty to second-degree murder. Attorneys said the agreement would bring “finality” to an uncertain case. But Anchorage District Court Judge Kevin Saxby later rejected that deal, which would have left Thomas eligible for parole in about 14 years. A week after Saxby made his decision, Thomas’s public defender filed his petition for review with the appeals court.

The Aug. 22 hearing revolved around a home video played in court during a series of victim impact statements in April. The video, shown following emotional testimony from Bower’s parents, included family photos and a recording of Bower singing The Beatles' “Blackbird.” But the video was never added to the court record.

In court Tuesday, representatives for the District Attorney’s Office, Thomas’s defense and the Office of Victims' Rights discussed the video and ways to include the whole thing with the official court record. While the audio portion of the video was captured by courtroom microphones, the images were not. The images are “significant” to Thomas’s appeal, according to his attorney, but state statute prohibits the Office of Victims' Rights from providing anything from its own files, according to court documents.

So the judge set a new deadline: By Sept. 6, the Office of Victims' Rights is required to provide a brief on its ability to obtain the video from Linda Bower’s family. Meanwhile, Thomas’s attorney on Aug. 23 filed a motion to stay the appellate court proceedings. A pre-trial conference is set to take place in Sept. 25.

For Bowers’ mother and stepfather, Sherry and Bradley Miller, it’s one more court date in a long list of court dates that have passed since Sept. 10, 2014.

“It just feels like the state doesn’t care about the victims,” said Bradley Miller, speaking by phone two days after the latest hearing.

Bower’s family was thrilled to see the plea deal rejected in April, they said, but the slow pace of the proceedings was still painful and discouraging. In the two years and eleven months since his stepdaughter was murdered, Bradley Miller said, he’s seen other cases come and go, with defendants beginning their sentences while the man charged with Linda’s death had yet to be convicted.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

While Sherry Miller said she’s willing to give the video of her daughter to the court, her feelings were mixed. She felt resentful and uncertain about how defense attorneys would use the video, she said. At the same time, she said, she worried withholding the video could delay the process even longer.

“We’re not close to an end in this, and that’s my biggest fear: People are going to forget,” she said. “But this is important.”

Thomas is tentatively scheduled to go to trial Oct. 9, according to court records

Contact Star reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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