Thomas sentenced for 2014 murder of Linda Bower, but eligible for parole in 14 years
Editor’s note. This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Judge Saxby’s name, as well as details about the length of the hearing, new victim impact statements being read and the fact that Taylor Winston, director of the Alaska Office of Victim’s Rights, was not speaking on behalf of the victim’s family.
David Joseph Thomas was sentenced March 9 to 75 years with 25 suspended and after pleading guilty to second-degree murder for the death 19-year-old Linda Anne Martz Bower of Eagle River in 2014.
Nearly four years after Bower’s death, the sentencing of Thomas, 31, was finally completed in a torturous road for the family that filled the court or phoned in to listen at Thomas’ sentencing.
The original plea deal in April 2017 was rejected by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby because it would have meant too few years spent in prison for the murder.
He said elements of the agreement — which would have imposed a sentence of 75 years with 25 suspended and left Thomas eligible for parole in 14 years – “cheapens the crime.”
This time, the sentencing was essentially to the same amount of prison time. After an Alaska Court of Appeals ruling in Thomas’ favor just a few weeks ago, Judge Saxby was back to the same sentencing guidance law perimeters.
The judge still wanted to keep Thomas behind bars longer than the next 14 years, but followed the orders of the appeals court decision.
Saxby said Thomas “hasn’t learned from his past mistakes and he’s manipulative. I don’t think Mr. Thomas has learned his lesson. He does what needs to be done for the right people to see in jail.”
The hearing was about two hours. This time, said Linda’s mother Sherry Miller, she isn’t dredging up the grief she feels for just a present-day audience.
“When David comes up for parole, the hope is that the parole board will heed the victims’ impact statements,” Miller said later.
In court she said: “Not only am I here to tell you what happened; I’m warning the girls, the women, the mothers of Alaska that he will do this again,” Miller said in one of her powerful single statements.
Thomas was originally charged with both first and second-degree murder for the crime after he turned himself in to police at an Eagle River parking lot Sept. 11, 2014. He had been driving around in his 1993 Mercedes with Bower’s body in the back seat of his car. The crime occurred on the night of Sept. 9-10 in 2014 after Linda had broken up with him, according to police at the time.
Linda graduated from Chugiak High School in 2013. Described as 5-feet tall and possessing a beautiful singing voice, she was a member of the high school choir.
“She had two — no three — passions in life: animals, music and art,” Miller said.
She followed a love for pets to a job at a pet store.
It was at an Eagle River pet store that she met Thomas, 28 at the time. Her parents described Thomas as manipulative and said the frequently rocky relationship was upsetting to the family. When Linda stopped working at the pet store and got a job at Blockbuster Video, he took a job in the same shopping mall. They described him as controlling or monitoring Linda’s every move.
Linda applied for a tech job at the Ravenwood Veterinary Clinic in Eagle River. She interviewed, and her parents wouldn’t learn until later the clinic was ready to call with a job offer when they found out about her death.
Linda broke things off with Thomas the day before he killed her, family said. It wasn’t until later that they learned of his violent past that included at least one domestic violence conviction in Montana, the Star reported at the time.
He also had a 2007 arrest for assaulting a police officer after Montana police responded to multiple 911 hang-ups. At that time, he was arrested for violating a protective order against a former girlfriend and he spent time in jail for it.
Anchorage Police investigating the murder said Thomas strangled Linda on the night of Sept. 9-10, then held onto her body in his car 14 hours before telling his brother he had killed her. The brother called police, and Thomas called authorities to the Eagle River Walgreens about 15 minutes later to confess his crime.
If ever released from jail, Linda’s mother said there’s no doubt he would be a threat to others.
“He’s a monster,” she said.
In December 2016, Thomas pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as part of a plea agreement attorneys said would bring “finality” to the case.
“We were more or less persuaded to go the plea route,” Miller said after the March 9 sentencing. “From the get-go we’ve been told by the DA that is what is best for the state. That reducing it from first to second degree would still mean punishment. We were too emotionally exhausted to go through a trial.”
But Bower’s family members and friends vehemently opposed the plea deal when they learned more about the actual years in his sentence. When Thomas’ sentencing hearing began in April 2017, they packed the Anchorage courtroom, taking turns standing before the judge to beg him to reject the sentence. They described the enormous breadth of their loss, the depth of their grief and their hunger for justice.
The sentencing March 9 was a repeat, but this time, the comments were aimed to being a public record for the future when any parole board analyzes whether to let Thomas out of jail before his mandatory time is served.
When Sherry Miller rose to speak, she addressed Saxby through tears, repeating her family’s plea.
“It is an injustice to my daughter, me and her family that David Thomas be considered for any parole whatsoever,” Miller told the judge. “I am aware of the harsh reality that nothing will ever bring my daughter back. But I plead with the court to give our family justice, and to give Linda justice. I implore the court to hold Mr. Thomas accountable for what he has done. I ask that you reconsider and reject this current plea.”
But Miller doesn’t hold it against Saxby that he is bound by state sentencing laws. Her research shows that Senate Bill 91, the controversial crime reform bill, allows for parole even for murders.
“They don’t have to request it, they get it automatically,” she said.
Miller has given public testimony to legislators and officials about the impact of SB 91 on this actual case. She feels it gave Thomas more chances to get out of prison earlier than would have happened in the past.
Taylor Winston, director of the Alaska Office of Victim’s Rights, spoke to the judge at the March 9 hearing.
“I wasn’t surprised by the judge’s decision in light of the Court of Appeal’s decision,” Winston said later. “When the defense appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals, the finding was that (the judge was told) some of the findings you made to support your decision are not appropriate and this is why. You have to make legal findings in accordance with our guidance that can substantiate your findings of the rejection.”
The decision was then put back on Saxby to mete out 75-year sentence, with 25 suspended and 50 to serve. Given that one-thirds of a sentence can be forgiven for good behavior, the concern remained that Thomas could be out on parole in a mere 14 years, Winston said, but there are other possibilities as well.
He will come up for parole and at that time the parole board will tell whether they will release him or not.
“It’s not automatic,” Winston said.
The family nonetheless was very disappointed. Again the victim’s dad spoke, her mother, her grandmother over the telephone.
“Linda, my daughter didn’t get justice,” Miller said. “I’m not at all upset with Judge Saxby. He can only do what a judge can do. A lot of people don’t realize that. I knew he did not want to go this route. But I now want to change Alaska laws and you can bet I will be there at his parole hearing.”
Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].