Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Thrasher v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

April 12, 2019

Christopher Michael Thrasher
v.
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court, Bessemer Division (CC-92-793)

          McCOOL, JUDGE.

         Christopher 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.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In 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 queen.'
"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 passenger seat.
"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 bat."

         Thrasher's brief, at 1-4 (citations to trial transcript and footnote omitted).

         At the 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.[1] 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) (table).

         On June 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 hearing.

         On 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."[2] (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 dollar bill."

         (C. 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 reference."

         (C. 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.)

         On 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 memorandum

"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 continuance."

         (R. 10.) Thus, the trial court denied Thrasher's motion to continue and proceeded with the resentencing hearing.

         During 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 trial court.

         On 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 at length:

"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 consequences
"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 [1975] 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.[3]
"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 crime.
"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 drowned.
"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 crime
"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, ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.