Judge reduces sentence of man convicted in brutal local murder
A federal judge on Monday reduced a Killeen man’s federal prison sentence from life without the possibility of parole to what he said was a more appropriate sentence.
Senior U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel reduced the sentence imposed upon Tony Sparks to 420 months in prison, to be followed by a five-year term on supervised release, an order signed Monday says.
Sparks already has served 214 months.
Sparks was sentenced in April 2000 to life without the possibility of parole in connection with the brutal June 1999 carjacking, robbery and murder of husband and wife Todd and Stacie Bagley, youth ministers from Iowa who were abducted and later shot while stuffed inside the trunk of their car, which later was set on fire while the woman was still alive.
Sparks, who was 16-years-old at the time, participated in the carjacking and robbery but he was dropped off at home before the murders were committed, court documents say.
In his decision Yeakel wrote that a change on sentencing rules initiated by the U.S. Supreme Court called Sparks’ sentence into question because he was a juvenile at the time the crimes were committed.
The new Supreme Court guidelines prohibit sentencing a juvenile to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole except under certain circumstances, which this issue did not meet, Yeakel said.
Brandon Bernard, of Killeen, who was 18 at the time of the murders, was found guilty, along with co-defendant Christopher Vialva, also of Killeen, and both were sentenced to death, court records show.
Just last month Yeakel rejected their appeals and upheld their original sentences.
The Bagleys were visiting in Killeen from Iowa, where they served as youth pastors at a church.
Trial testimony showed Vialva masterminded the couple's kidnapping during a carjacking and, with three others involved including Bernard, spent about six hours driving around Bell County with the young couple locked in the trunk while the quartet took turns trying to use the Bagley's ATM cards.
Eventually Vialva drove the car to a secluded area of Fort Hood, opened the trunk and after Stacie Bagley told him God loved him, he cursed at her and shot her in the head with a .40 caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol.
But she didn't die.
Then Vialva shot Todd Bagley whom he killed instantly, ordered his accomplices to pour lighter fluid in the trunk and on the car and Bernard set it afire.
An autopsy showed Stacie Bagley had soot in her lungs and her death was attributed to smoke inhalation, not a gunshot wound.
The suspects were detained at the scene after a Nolanville police officer was sent to the area to check out an unknown fire.
The killers, while trying to drive away from the scene, ended up stuck in a muddy ditch and still were there when police arrived.
Four were detained initially for questioning in connection with the fire but were arrested at the scene after firefighters found the badly burned bodies in the car trunk.
The case went federal instead of through the state district courts because the crime was committed on Fort Hood.
The jury returned a guilty verdict and death sentence for Vialva in very short order, but did not reach a verdict on Bernard until the next day.