United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Waco Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION REGARDING RESENTENCING
YEAKEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
April 17.2000. Tony Sparks pleaded guilty to carjacking. On
March 22.2001. the district court sentenced Sparks to life in
prison. On November 18, 2016, with the permission of the
Filth Circuit, Sparks fded an Unopposed Successive Motion to
Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255 (#509) on the basis of the Supreme Court's
decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). On
January 17, 2017. the parties filed ajoint motion in which
the parties agreed that Sparks was entitled to resentencing
under Miller. This court granted Sparks's motion based on
Miller. The court held a resentencing hearing from
February 5 through 7 and 21 through 22, 2018. With the
agreement of the parties, the court conducted the hearing in
Fifth Circuit summarized the factual background of this case
in its opinion in United States v. Bernard, 299 F.3d 467 (5th
Cir. 2002), affirming the convictions of two others charged
in connection with the same crime:
On June 20, 1999, Christopher Andre Vialva, Christopher Lewis
and Tony Sparks, members of a gang in Killeen, Texas, met to
plan a robbery. The three gang members decided on the
following plan: they would ask someone for a ride, get in the
car and pull a gun on the victim, steal the victim's
money and personal effects, obtain the pin No. for the
victim's ATM card, force the victim into the trunk of the
car and drive somewhere to abandon the car with the victim
locked in the trunk.
Id. at 471.
night, using a .22 caliber handgun that belonged to Sparks,
Vialva, Lewis, and Sparks attempted to locate a victim for
their plan, but were unsuccessful. Around 2:00 a.m. on June
21, a Killeen police officer made contact with Vialva, Lewis,
and Sparks. They discarded the gun into nearby bushes. The
officer took Lewis and Sparks back to the Killeen police
station, because they were juveniles and were in violation of
the Killeen juvenile-curfew law. Sparks's mother, Daniele
Brown, picked them up from the police station. Vialva went
back later in the evening to retrieve the gun.
The following day, Vialva, Lewis and Sparks enlisted two
fellow gang members, Brandon Bernard and Terry Brown, to
assist in the carjacking plan. Initially, the group only had
one gun, a "tiny .22 pistol" that they considered
"too small to frighten anyone." The group decided
that a second gun was necessary. Bernard owned a Glock .40
caliber handgun that he had lent to Gregory Lynch. Vialva,
Bernard, Lewis, Sparks and Brown drove to Lynch's house
and obtained Bernard's gun. The group then set out in
search of a victim.
Sometime after 2:00 p.m. on the afternoon of June 21, Bernard
drove Vialva, Brown, Lewis, and Sparks to a local supermarket
to find a victim. Having had no luck there, the group
continued their search by driving around parking lots at
other local stores.
The search ended at a convenience store in Killeen, where
they found Todd Bagley using a pay phone.
Todd Bagley and his wife, Stacie, were youth ministers from
Iowa. Before moving to Iowa, Todd had been stationed at Fort
Hood, where the couple attended Grace Christian Church and
worked with the youth group. About a week before their
deaths, the Bagleys returned to Killeen to visit friends and
to attend a revival meeting at the church. On Sunday, June
21, they attended a morning worship service and had lunch
with friends. Afterward, Todd stopped at
"Mickey's" convenience store to use the
payphone, while Stacie waited for him in their car.
Lewis and Sparks approached Todd and asked him for a ride to
their uncle's house. Todd agreed. Vialva, who was
standing nearby, got in the backseat of the Bagleys' car
with Lewis and Sparks. Todd and Stacie occupied the front
seat. Vialva gave Todd directions, and then pulled out the
.40 caliber gun, pointed it at Todd and told him that
"the plans have changed." At the same time, Sparks
pointed the .22 handgun at Stacie. On Vialva's orders,
Todd stopped the car, and the Bagleys got out. The gang stole
Todd's wallet, Stacie's purse and the Bagleys'
jewelry. Vialva demanded the pin numbers for the Bagleys'
ATM cards, and then forced the Bagleys into the trunk of
After locking the Bagleys in the trunk, Vialva drove around
for several hours. He went to ATM machines to withdraw money
from the Bagleys' account, but was largely unsuccessful
because the Bagleys had less than one hundred dollars on
deposit. Vialva drove to a "Wendy's" where
Lewis and Sparks used the Bagleys' money to purchase some
food. Vialva then attempted to pawn Stacie's wedding
ring, and stopped at a tobacco store to purchase cigars and
While they were locked in the trunk, the Bagleys spoke with
Lewis and Sparks through the rear panel of the car. Lewis
testified that the Bagleys asked them questions about God,
Jesus, and church. The Bagleys told Lewis and Sparks that
they were not wealthy people, but that they were blessed by
their faith in Jesus. The Bagleys informed Lewis and Sparks
about the revival meeting at Grace Christian, a church which
Lewis said he had attended. Urging them to have faith, the
Bagleys advised Lewis and Sparks that God's blessings
were available to anyone. After this conversation, Sparks
told Vialva he no longer wanted to go through with the crime.
Vialva, however, insisted on killing the Bagleys and burning
their car to eliminate the witnesses and the gangs'
Vialva drove to his house. While he was inside, the Bagleys
had another conversation about God with Lewis and Sparks. By
this time, the victims had been locked in the trunk for
several hours. The Bagleys pleaded with Lewis and Sparks for
Vialva returned to the car with a ski mask and some
additional clothing. Vialva, Lewis, and Sparks then met
Bernard and Brown, and Vialva repeated that he had to kill
the Bagleys because they had seen his face.
Id. at 471-72.
point, Sparks told the others that he needed to be taken to
his house, because his 8:00 p.m. curfew was approaching. He
indicated that, because he had been in violation of the
curfew the previous night, his mother would be particularly
upset if he violated it again. The group dropped off Sparks
at his house. Sparks took the Bagleys' jewelry with him,
and Vialva told Sparks they could pawn the jewelry together
the next day. Vialva also requested that Sparks leave his .22
handgun with Vialva. After initially refusing, Sparks agreed.
Bernard and Brown set off to purchase fuel to burn the
Bagleys' car. Vialva, Bernard, Lewis and Brown drove to
an isolated spot in the Belton Lake Recreation Area on the
Fort Hood military reservation. Vialva parked the
Bagleys' car on top of a little hill. Brown and Bernard
poured lighter fluid on the interior of the car while the
Bagleys sang and prayed in the trunk.
According to Brown, Stacie's last words were "Jesus
loves you" and "Jesus, take care of us."
Vialva crudely cussed at her in reply. Vialva put on his
mask, and told Lewis to open the trunk. Vialva then shot Todd
in the head with the .40 caliber gun, killing him instantly.
Vialva shot Stacie in the right side of her face, knocking
her unconscious, but not killing her. Bernard set the car on
fire. An autopsy later revealed that Stacie died from smoke
Vialva, Bernard, Lewis and Brown ran down the hill to
Bernard's car. Their getaway was foiled when the car slid
off the road into a muddy ditch. Local law enforcement
officers, informed of a fire, arrived at the scene while the
assailants were trying to push the car out of the ditch. When
firemen discovered the bodies in the trunk of the
Bagleys' burning car, the four were arrested.
Id. at 472-73. Approximately two weeks later, while
police were executing an unrelated search warrant at
Sparks's house, they found the Bagleys' jewelry and
Sparks was taken into custody.
has been in custody since August 2, 1999. On April 17, 2000,
Sparks pleaded guilty to carjacking. On July 31, 2000, while
imprisoned at the Bell County Juvenile Detention Center
awaiting sentencing, Sparks participated in an escape attempt
with another inmate, Christopher Kirvin. Kirvin lured a
correctional officer into Kirvin's cell and choked her,
taking her keys. She regained consciousness and began
screaming. At that point Sparks, in an adjacent cell, began
flushing his toilet repeatedly to mask her screams.
time Sparks was sentenced, the federal sentencing guidelines
had not yet been ruled advisory by the Supreme Court. See
United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 259 (2005).
Sparks's offense level and criminal history, including
the adjustments for his role in the escape attempt, led to a
range including just one sentence: life in prison without the
possibility of parole. At the time of the offense, Sparks was
16 years old. The Guidelines at that time stated that
"[a]ge (including youth) is not ordinarily relevant in
determining whether a sentence should be outside the
applicable guideline range." U.S. Sentencing Guidelines
Manual § 5H1.1 (2000). On March 22, 2001, in accordance
with the Guidelines, the district court sentenced Sparks to
life in prison.
and Bernard were tried, found guilty of first-degree murder,
carjacking, and conspiracy to commit murder, and sentenced to
death. Lewis and Brown testified at the trial of Vialva and
Bernard. As a result of their cooperation, Lewis and Brown
signed plea agreements whereby they pleaded guilty to two
counts of second-degree murder, aiding and abetting; one
count of carjacking; and possession of a firearm during the
commission of a crime of violence. The district court
sentenced both Lewis and Brown to 248 months.
recent years, the Supreme Court has addressed
juvenile-sentencing issues in several cases, beginning with
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005). In
Roper, the Court found that juveniles were not
eligible for the death penalty because of their diminished
culpability and their capacity for change. In Graham v.
Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), the Court held that
juveniles could not be sentenced to life without parole in
crimes that did not involve homicide. In Miller v.
Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), the Court held that
juveniles could not be sentenced to mandatory life without
parole. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718
(2016), the Court held that the Miller decision was
retroactive to cases on collateral review.
of these decisions, the Court addressed the rationale for
punishing juveniles differently than adults. In
Miller, the Court summarized the state of its Eighth
Amendment jurisprudence as it relates to juveniles. As the
Roper and Graham establish that children
are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of
sentencing. Because juveniles have diminished culpability and
greater prospects for reform, we explained, "they are
less deserving of the most severe punishments."
Graham, 560 U.S. at 68. Those cases relied on three
significant gaps between juveniles and adults. First,
children have a "lack of maturity and an underdeveloped
sense of responsibility, " leading to recklessness,
impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking. Roper, 543
U.S. at 569. Second, children "are more vulnerable ...
to negative influences and outside pressures, "
including from their family and peers; they have limited
"control over their own environment" and lack the
ability to extricate themselves from horrific,
crime-producing settings. Id. at 570. And third, a
child's character is not ...