from Jefferson Circuit Court, Bessemer Division (CC-92-793)
Michael Thrasher appeals a judgment of the Jefferson Circuit
Court resentencing him to life imprisonment without the
possibility of parole for his 1993 capital-murder conviction.
and Procedural History
October 1993, Thrasher was convicted of murder made capital
pursuant to § 13A-5-40(a)(10), Ala. Code 1975, for the
intentional killing of Allen Eakes and Kevin Duncan when
Thrasher was 16 years old. Thrasher summarizes the facts
giving rise to his conviction as follows:
"[O]n February 8, 1992, Carvin Stargell and Nathan Gast,
beat Eakes and Duncan before leaving them to drown in a creek
in ... Jefferson County. Mr. Thrasher was allegedly the
orchestrator of the murders and purportedly instructed
Stargell and Gast to murder Eakes and Duncan.
"The sole witness to the events was Ginger Minor. Minor
was nearly beaten to death by Stargell with a baseball bat
and left to die in a vacant lot that same evening. Minor
recovered and testified against Mr. Thrasher at trial. Minor
testified that Mr. Thrasher was the leader of the gang that
included Stargell and Gast. Mr. Thrasher, Minor, Stargell,
Gast, Eakes, and Duncan were together on February 8, 1992.
That night after buying alcohol, the group went to Crown
Point Apartments to swim in a hot tub. Mr. Thrasher, Minor,
Stargell, and Gast got in the hot tub while Duncan and Eakes
remained in the car. Minor testified that Mr. Thrasher made
her perform oral sex on Gast and Stargell so that she could
become a female member of the group called a 'disciple
"Afterwards, Stargell and Gast left Mr. Thrasher and
Minor alone in the hot tub. At some point, Duncan came up to
the fence around the pool area covered with drool and said
'Chris, are you crazy? They tried to choke us and said we
had to die.' Minor testified that Mr. Thrasher went up to
the fence to talk to Duncan and was laughing and grinning.
Duncan walked back to the car and left with Gast, Stargell,
and Eakes. Mr. Thrasher told Minor that Stargell and Gast
were taking Eakes and Duncan home. While they were gone, Mr.
Thrasher got sick and vomited over the side of the hot tub.
"Stargell and Gast were gone for two hours. When they
returned, Eakes and Duncan were not with them. Stargell told
Gast to help Mr. Thrasher get dressed while Stargell took
Minor's clothes and dragged her to the car. As he dragged
her to the car, Stargell repeatedly told Minor, 'girl you
gotta die.' Stargell put Minor in the backseat of the car
with Gast while Stargell drove; Mr. Thrasher sat in the front
"As they drove around, Gast told Minor that he and
Stargell had put the other boys in the creek while Stargell
bragged about how they had beat them and that they were dead.
They drove to Red Mountain where Stargell said they were
going to throw Minor off the mountain, but they did not.
Eventually, they ended up in a wooded area in Bessemer, where
Stargell tried to rape Minor in the car.
"After the attempted rape, Stargell told Minor to get
out of the car for the last part of the initiation. Mr.
Thrasher had a baseball bat. Stargell and Mr. Thrasher kept
saying that Minor had to die and Stargell was telling Mr.
Thrasher to hit her with the bat. At some point, Mr. Thrasher
told Minor to say the disciple's prayer for the gang. Mr.
Thrasher picked up a rock but didn't hit her with it.
"Minor testified that Stargell kept telling Mr. Thrasher
to hit Minor, but Mr. Thrasher said he couldn't bring
himself to hit her. At that point, Stargell bashed Minor in
the head with the bat. The last thing Minor remembered was a
'ping' sound when Stargell struck her head with the
brief, at 1-4 (citations to trial transcript and footnote
time of Thrasher's conviction, § 13A-6-2(c), Ala.
Code 1975, authorized only two possible sentences for a
capital-murder conviction -- death or life imprisonment
without the possibility of parole. After Thrasher waived his
right to the participation of the jury in the sentencing
hearing, see § 13A-5-44(c), Ala. Code 1975, the
trial court sentenced Thrasher to life imprisonment without
the possibility of parole. This Court affirmed Thrasher's
conviction and sentence on direct appeal. See Thrasher v.
State, 668 So.2d 949 (Ala.Crim.App.1995) (table), cert
denied Ex parte Thrasher, 667 So.2d 750 (Ala. 1995)
4, 2013, Thrasher filed a Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., petition
for postconviction relief in which he argued that his
sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of
parole is unconstitutional under Miller v. Alabama,
567 U.S. 460 (2012), which prohibits a sentencing scheme that
"mandates life in prison without possibility of parole
for juvenile offenders." Id. at 479, 2469.
Although the State initially moved to dismiss Thrasher's
petition, the State and Thrasher subsequently filed a joint
motion to stay the Rule 32 proceedings pending the United
States Supreme Court's decision in Montgomery v.
Louisiana, 577 U.S.__, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), in which
the Court granted certiorari to address whether
Miller applies retroactively to cases on collateral
review. On January 25, 2016, the United States Supreme Court
issued its decision in Montgomery, holding that
Miller "announced a substantive rule that is
retroactive in cases on collateral review."
Montgomery, 577 U.S. at__, 136 S.Ct. at 732.
Thereafter, the State and Thrasher filed a joint motion in
which the State conceded that, in light of
Montgomery, Thrasher was entitled to a sentencing
hearing in accord with Miller. Thus, on March 9,
2016, the trial court entered an order granting
Thrasher's Rule 32 petition and scheduling a resentencing
September 27, 2017, less than one week before the
resentencing hearing, Thrasher filed a motion to continue the
hearing. In support of that motion, Thrasher argued that the
State, allegedly in violation of Brady v. Maryland,
373 U.S. 83 (1963), had suppressed evidence indicating that
Eakes's family and Duncan's family had made cash
payments to Minor prior to her testimony at trial.
Specifically, Thrasher argued that, in preparation for the
resentencing hearing, the State had provided him with
discovery that included a memorandum drafted by prosecutor
Ted Mills in February 1994 ("the memorandum"). (C.
212.) According to Thrasher, the memorandum noted that
Eakes's family and Duncan's family had made the
payments to Minor prior to her testimony at trial and that
the State "became aware of the payments in February
1994, approximately three (3) to four (4) months after the
trial of the defendant." The memorandum itself, which
Thrasher included with his motion to continue, specifically
indicates that, "[o]n February 2, 1994, [Mills] received
a phone call from Annie Minor, Ginger Minor's
stepmother," who informed Mills "that she had heard
that [Minor] had received some money from the Eakes and
Duncan family [sic] sometime after the Carvin Stargell
trial." (C. 217.) According to the memorandum,
Mills arranged to meet with Minor at the same time that Andy
Bellanca, a captain with the Bessemer Police Department, was
to meet with Eakes's family and Duncan's family at a
different location to "inquire as to whether this
information was in fact true and, if so, what was the intent
of giving this money." (C. 218.) Mills reported that
Minor told him that
"the money she received was attached to a birthday card
and was nothing more than a gift for her sixteenth birthday.
She said that she got a hundred dollar bill in a birthday
card from the Eakes' family and another card from the
Duncans with a twenty dollar bill inside. [Minor] went on to
say that she did not receive any other money from either
family except that she did get a Christmas card from the
Duncans in December and enclosed inside the card was a twenty
218.) After meeting with Minor, Mills discussed his findings
with Bellanca, who reported that "what [Eakes's
family and Duncan's family] told him was almost identical
to what [Minor] advised [Mills]." (C. 219.) Mills
concluded the memorandum by noting that
"we informed Judge Dan Reynolds of the situation and how
we had handled it. Judge Reynolds advised that in his opinion
there was nothing to it and that we had handled it properly,
and that we should draft a memorandum explaining the entire
situation and make it a part of our file for future
219.) Given his discovery of the memorandum, Thrasher argued
that he required a continuance of the resentencing hearing
"so that the facts of the [memorandum] may be
investigated further and, if necessary, a new trial
sought." (C. 213.)
October 2, 2017, the day of Thrasher's resentencing
hearing, the trial court heard the arguments of counsel
regarding Thrasher's motion to continue, and
Thrasher's counsel reiterated that the facts reflected in
the memorandum supported a Brady claim. (R. 6, 9.)
The trial court noted, however, that the facts in the
"may be a material issue challenging the conviction in
this case -- it may be good grounds for appeal and for a Rule
32 action to challenge the conviction but I am not here to
review the conviction. I am here to review the sentence and
only the sentence. So, that would not be a basis for a
10.) Thus, the trial court denied Thrasher's motion to
continue and proceeded with the resentencing hearing.
the resentencing hearing, the State did not present any
witnesses in its case-in-chief, but relied instead on
"the complete transcript, all exhibits and all
evidence" from Thrasher's trial, which the trial
court reviewed (R. 35); the presentencing report from
Thrasher's original sentencing hearing, as well as an
updated presentencing report filed a few days before the
resentencing hearing; and Thrasher's disciplinary report
from the Alabama Department of Corrections. After the State
rested, Thrasher presented, among other witnesses, Minor and
Dr. Paul James O'Leary, a board-certified psychiatrist.
In rebuttal, the State presented victim-impact testimony from
Eakes's brother and Duncan's brother, and, at the
close of the hearing, Thrasher made a brief statement to the
October 13, 2017, the trial court entered a detailed judgment
in which it resentenced Thrasher to life imprisonment without
the possibility of parole. (R. 244.) Because Thrasher's
arguments on appeal include challenges to the trial
court's consideration of the evidence presented at the
resentencing hearing, we quote the trial court's judgment
"The United States Supreme Court, in Miller
..., held that a judge 'must have the opportunity to
consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the
harshest possible penalty for juveniles.' In
Montgomery ..., the Supreme Court made the
Miller decision retroactive, and in so doing held
that prisoners 'must be given the opportunity to show
their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption.' In
making this determination the Alabama Supreme Court held in
[Ex parte] Henderson, 144 So.3d l262, 1263 [(Ala.
2013), ] that a sentencing Court must consider fourteen
factors, each of which is addressed by this Court below:
"The juvenile's chronological age at the time of
the offense and the hallmark features of youth, such as
immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and
"Defendant Christopher Thrasher's date of birth is
July 3, 1975. The Defendant was convicted of a capital murder
that took place on February 9, 1992. Therefore, the Defendant
was 16 years and 7 months old at the time of the offense.
Under current Alabama law the Defendant would have
automatically been treated as an adult for a felony offense.
Ala. Code  Section [12-15-204].
"Dr. Paul O'Leary, a board-certified psychologist
retained by the defense as an expert witness who examined the
Defendant and subjected him to psychological testing,
testified that the Defendant had an emotional capacity of a
13-year-old at the time of the offense. Considering that the
Defendant was 16 at the time of the offense, the emotional
age attributed to him by Dr. O'Leary is not substantially
lower than his chronological age. Further, it is undisputable
that thirteen-year olds know right from wrong.
"Although Dr. O 'Leary opined that the Defendant
failed to appreciate the consequences of his actions, there
is no substantial basis for that opinion. Dr. O'Leary
spent very little time with the Defendant and he administered
no psychological tests.
"Accordingly, this Court finds that the Defendant was
not so young in chronological age, nor did he suffer from
such a defect of maturity, to not appreciate the nature and
consequences of his actions at the time of the offense.
"The juvenile's diminished culpability
"Dr. O'Leary testified that the Defendant had been
intoxicated at the times of the crimes and was sleep
deprived. Defendant informed Dr. Alan Blotcky, clinical
psychologist for the State, that he had a history of alcohol
abuse and marijuana use.
"The evidence presented at trial established that the
Defendant and his codefendants contemplated their action and
communicated their intentions to one another before the
commission of the crimes. Following the murder of the two
minor victims, the Defendant planned and attempted to kill
the only witness to the crime.
"Defendant described himself as the leader of the gang
that killed the victims in this case. He ordered the other
gang members to commit the murders. He ordered the only
witness to the crimes to perform sexual acts with his
codefendants, the other gang members, to say a gang prayer,
and then he attempted to kill the witness.
"The Court finds that the Defendant formulated and
carried out a plan to kill and attempted to reduce the
chances of being caught by trying to kill the witness to the
"The circumstances of the offense
"The minor victims in this case, Allen Eakes and Kevin
Duncan, were 16 and 15 years old at the time they were
brutally murdered by being beaten and left in a creek to
drown. This Defendant was the self-proclaimed leader of the
gang that committed these brutal murders and he instructed
the other gang members to commit the murders. This Defendant
also savagely beat the only surviving witness, Ginger Minor,
and left her for dead in a deserted rural area and covered
her body in an effort to conceal her.
"With regard to the two victims murdered, the Defendant
cannot argue that, due to his lack of maturity, he made an
impetuous decision and fired a single shot from a gun causing
a regrettable death. No, in this case, the Defendant
instructed other gang members to commit the murders, and when
they failed to do so after their first attempt he again
instructed the other gang members to kill Allen Eakes and
Kevin Duncan. According to the coroner, each of the victims
suffered at least five blows to the head with a blunt
instrument. They were then dumped into a creek where they
"After Allen Eakes and Kevin Duncan were brutally
murdered on the instructions of this Defendant, this
Defendant beat Ginger Minor with a baseball bat. Ginger Minor
suffered skull fractures, a bruise on the brain, fractures to
her hands and feet and a broken nose. Ms. Minor was left in a
vacant lot to die. She was found only because a codefendant,
Nathan Gast, told police where to look for her. Upon first
regaining consciousness Ginger Minor was asked, 'who did
this to you?' She responded, 'Chris' Thrasher.
"The extent of the juvenile's participation in
"The circumstances surrounding the murders of Allen
Eakes and Kevin Duncan, as well as the beating of Ginger
Minor, were gruesome. These gruesome crimes were planned,