Christopher Lewis, Terry Brown, & Tony Sparks

Victims: Stacie Lynn Bagley and Todd Alan Bagley

Murderers: Christopher Vialva, 19, Brandon Bernard, 18, Terry Brown, 17, Tony Sparks, 16, and Christopher Lewis, 15

Crime date: June 21, 1999

Crime location: Killeen, TX

Crimes: Kidnapping, abduction, armed robbery, murder, arson, & killing to eliminate witnesses

Weapon:  .40 caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol

Murder method: Shots to the head & burning alive

Murder motivation: Witness elimination

Sentences: Brown and Lewis-15 years; Sparks–life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 35 years

Summary

Youth ministers Todd and Stacie were tricked into giving Lewis, Sparks, and Vialva a ride, only to be carjacked and kidnapped at gunpoint. They were forced into the back trunk and terrorized and robbed for several hours. Vialva decided to murder Todd and Stacie to eliminate them as witnesses. He fatally shot Todd and shot and wounded Stacie. Brown and Bernard doused the inside of the car with lighter fluid and Bernard set it ablaze. Stacie was alive but unconscious when the fire was set and died of smoke inhalation. During the ordeal, the victims tried to reason with their captors and begged for their lives. They managed to convince Sparks, who left before the couple was killed. Stacie’s last words were “Jesus loves you” and “Jesus, take care of us.”

Brown and Lewis pleaded guilty to second degree murder and each got 188 months (a little over 15 years) in prison. Sparks, Bernard, and Vialva were convicted of the crime. Sparks was sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) but later had his sentence reduced to 35 years. Bernard and Vialva were both sentenced to death. Vialva was executed on September 24, 2020.

Details

Murders of Stacie and Todd Bagley from Is Life Without Parole For Juveniles Cruel And Unusual?

 Stacie Lynn Bagley

On June 21, 1999, 26-year-old Todd, a youth minister from Iowa, was approached by two young men while using a payphone in a convenience store parking lot. The men, Christopher Lewis, 15, and Tony Sparks, 16, asked Todd for a ride to their uncle’s house. Todd agreed, allowing Lewis, Sparks, and Christopher Vialva, 19, to get in the back of the car while Todd and his wife Stacie sat in front. But the three young men weren’t really interested in getting a ride. The gang members were carrying out a plan they had created earlier, which involved asking someone for a ride, getting in the car and pulling a gun on them, stealing from them, getting their PIN for their ATM card, and forcing them into the trunk of their car and abandoning them. Not only would they carry out their wicked plan, they would escalate the crime to an aggravated double murder.

Vialva pulled out a .40 caliber gun, pointed it at Todd, and said “the plans have changed.” Sparks pointed a .22 handgun at Stacie. Vialva ordered the victims to stop the car and get out and then robbed them of their possessions. Vialva then demanded their PINs and forced them into the trunk of their car. The victims were locked in the trunk and driven around for several hours. The kidnappers took them to several ATMs and tried to pawn Stacie’s wedding ring. During their terrifying ordeal, Stacie and Todd spoke to Lewis and Sparks through the rear panel of the car, telling them about their faith and advising them that God’s blessings were available to anyone. The couple managed to convince Sparks, who told Vialva that he did not want to go through with the crime. But Vialva had a different idea–killing the couple to eliminate them as witnesses. The couple continued to beg for their lives but were disregarded.

Lewis, Sparks, and Vialva then met 18-year-old Brandon Bernard and 17-year-old Terry Brown, fellow gang-members who had enlisted in their plan. Vialva, Bernard, Lewis, and Brown drove to an isolated spot in the Belton Lake Recreation Area on the Fort Hood military reservation. Brown and Bernard poured lighter fluid inside the car while Stacie and Todd sang and prayed in the trunk. Stacie’s last words were “Jesus loves you” and “Jesus, take care of us.” Vialva then shot Todd in the head and Stacie in the face. Todd was killed instantly while Stacie was knocked unconscious. Bernard then set the car on fire, causing Stacie to die of smoke inhalation.

Sentencing of 2 teens involved in Iowa couple’s murder set for March

BELTON — Sentencing is set for March 21, for a pair of Killeen teen-agers who were among a group of five Killeen youths convicted for the June 21, 1999, carjacking and murder of an Iowa couple visiting Bell County.

Terry Terrell Brown and Christopher Michael Lewis both pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges in December 1999.

Lewis also pleaded guilty to a carjacking charge.

Brown was 17 at the time of the killing and Lewis was 15. Both could be sentenced to life in prison, but will not face the death penalty because they testified for federal prosecutors.

Sentencing in Waco federal court is scheduled for March 21-22, federal prosecutor Mark Frazier said Friday.

Brown and Lewis were involved in the killings of Stacie Bagley, 28, and her husband, 26-year-old Todd Bagley.

The couple was carjacked in Killeen and murdered in a remote area of Fort Hood.

The Bagleys — who were visiting relatives in Killeen — were driven around for hours and then each shot in the head as they pleaded for their lives.

Their charred bodies were found inside the trunk of their 1989 Buick LeSabre.

Two other defendants were convicted of murder last June and sentenced to die.

Christopher Andre Vialva was convicted on two counts of murder and Brandon Bernard was convicted for the murder of Stacie Bagley only.

Both are from Killeen and both were 19 at the time of the murders.

A fifth defendant, Killeen’s Tony Sparks, pleaded guilty to a carjacking charge and also awaits sentencing.

A sixth defendant — one who was not involved with the carjacking or murder — pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge involving Stacie Bagley’s stolen wedding ring.

Sherwin Matthew Semple, 34, of Brazoria pleaded guilty to the charge Dec. 29 in a Bell County district court and was sentenced to the maximum two years in prison.

Semple got the ring from Sparks, prosecutors said.

Ms. Bagley’s wedding ring has been returned to family members in Iowa.

Her late husband’s ring was not recovered.

Killeen teen-agers sentenced in killing of Iowa couple

BELTON — Four Killeen teen-agers were sentenced to federal prison Thursday, for their roles in the June 21, 1999, slayings of an Iowa couple who were carjacked and murdered while visiting Bell County.

U. S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. sentenced the four during court proceedings in Waco, according to the U.S. District Clerk’s office.

Tony Sparks, 17, of Killeen, previously pleaded guilty to a carjacking charge and on Thursday Sparks sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

“If you get life in the federal system, it’s life,” federal prosecutor Mark Frazier previously told the Telegram.

Terry Terrell Brown and Christopher Michael Lewis both pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges in December 1999.

Brown was 17 at the time of the killings and Lewis was 15.

On Thursday, Sparks sentenced each man to 188 months (more than 15 years) in prison.

They did not face the death penalty because they testified for prosecutors in the June 2000 trials of Christopher Andre Vialva and Brandon Bernard.

Vialva and Bernard — both of Killeen — were convicted of murder last June and sentenced to die.

Both were 19 at the time of the murders.

They were convicted of killing Stacie Bagley, 28, and her 26-year-old husband, Todd Bagley.

Vialva was convicted on two counts of murder and Bernard was convicted for the murder of Stacie Bagley only.

Gregory Hardin Lynch, 16, of Killeen provided the .40-caliber Glock semiautomaric handgun was used in murders.

Lynch previously pleaded guilty to the felony crime of possession of a stolen weapon. On Thursday, he was sentenced to five years in federal prison.

The Bagleys were carjacked in Killeen and murdered in a remote area of Fort Hood — which is how the crimes entered the federal judicial system.

The Bagleys — who were visiting relatives in Killeen — were driven around for hours and then each shot in the head as they pleaded for their lives, according to testimony.

Their charred bodies were found inside the trunk of their burned 1989 Buick LeSabre.

In December 2000 a seventh defendant — one who was not involved with the carjacking or murder — pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge involving Stacie Bagley’s stolen wedding ring.

Sherwin Matthew Semple, 34, of Brazoria pleaded guilty to the theft charge in a Bell County district court and was sentenced to the maximum two years in state jail.

Prosecutors believe Semple got Todd and Stacie Bagley’s wedding rings from Sparks, pawning them in the Houston area for $300.

Ms. Bagley’s wedding ring has been returned to family members in Iowa.

Her late husband’s ring was never recovered.

Two convicted in deadly local carjacking lose federal appeal

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin has rejected the appeals of two men sentenced to die for their roles in a deadly Central Texas carjacking who argued the judge who sentenced them wasn’t fit to serve.

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, of the brutal June 1999 killings of husband and wife Todd and Stacie Bagley, both of whom were shot while stuffed inside the trunk of their car, which later was set on fire while the woman was still alive.

The two, along with Tony Sparks, also of Killeen, were found guilty of carjacking that resulted in death.

The Austin judge’s order read: the motions “are dismissed without prejudice for want of jurisdiction.

Lawyers for both men may submit the appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court, in New Orleans, and a similar motion has been filed requesting a hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court, but that panel has not yet decided if it will hear the issue.

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.

Vialva was sentenced to death for the carjacking that resulted in death, the murder of Todd Bagley and for the conspiracy to commit murder or attempted murder in the death of Stacie Bagley.

Bernard was sentenced to death for the murder of Stacie Bagley.

The request for relief at the Supreme Court says Judge Walter S. Smith, Jr., in U.S. District Court in Waco, committed error when he refused to allow the defense teams to file a certificate of appealability (COA) during trial.

In federal capital murder cases, certificates of appealability are court documents that, in effect, give the defendant permission to appeal certain aspects of his trial and decisions made by the district judge during that trial.

Without COAs, the defense can’t establish a record and has no grounds upon which to appeal.

The request goes on to say that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Orleans, further erred when it, too, refused lawyers requests for a COA.

The appeal details how the 5th Circuit has a history of denying COAs, as do the district courts in the 5th Circuit’s region, while circuit courts and district courts in other parts of the country allow COAs routinely.

As well, it refers to an earlier appeal filed on behalf of Vialva, the contents of which refer to the district court judge’s ability to preside while “impaired.”

“The record reflects a summary denial by the same District Judge whose actions were the subject of multiple claims of error.

“Judge Smith’s apparent refusal or inability to acknowledge the severity of those impairments undermine all confidence in his review of this case,” the Vialva appeal, filed in October 2016 says.

Smith, while still on the bench, was reprimanded by the 5th Circuit after Texas lawyer Ty Clevenger successfully presented evidence that in 1998 the judge had sexually harassed a court staff employee and apparently was inebriated when he did it.

Clevenger, who now practices in New York City, made a complaint to the Judicial Council of the 5th Circuit that resulted in a Dec. 4, 2015 reprimand against Smith that ordered him to complete a sensitivity course and barred him from accepting new cases for the next year after an investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct dating back 17 years.

The reprimand stopped short of suggesting impeachment and, in fact, stated impeachment was not called for.

Then on February 22, 2016, a federal judicial conduct committee ordered the 5th Circuit to re-investigate a case against Smith.

The Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States reviewed a subsequent petition Clevenger filed naming Smith and said in its order that the reprimand issued against Smith in December 2015 may not have gone far enough in the punishment meted out and ordered the 5th Circuit to review the evidence against the judge again.

Very shortly thereafter Smith retired.

Several attempts over the past five years to speak with Smith by telephone, electronically, even in person at his office, have been rebuffed.

Smith has made no comment to any media outlet about the issue.

In his letter of resignation to President Barak Obama, Smith wrote: “Please be advised that of this date, September 14, 2016, I intend to retire from office as a United States District Judge for the Western District of Texas.”

“I understand that, upon my retirement, I will receive, during the remainder of my lifetime, an annuity equal to the salary I was receiving at the time of retirement,” he wrote.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice website the base salary for a U.S. district judge in Waco ending November 2017 was $145,480 and Smith had 32 years’ service.

The motion by Bernard says it was that pattern of behavior that led to Smith making erroneous rulings that damaged the defendant and the case should be revisited by more appropriate appeals.

They support the motion with language out of the 2016 Vialva appeal that states: “A judicial officer suffering from impaired judgment is in no position to evaluate his own actions.

“Confronted with an obvious miscarriage of justice, the Fifth Circuit abrogated its role in a manner that blatantly contravened Supreme Court authority.”

The motion goes on to say: “It was incumbent on Judge Smith to recuse (himself) when the legality of his actions required review.

“Judge Smith’s failure to recuse meant he was the sole arbiter of his own errors.

“No objective judicial officer conducted a substantive review of Mr. Vialva’s claims,” the petition says.

“The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit repeated its erroneous construction of the certificate of appealablity standard to avoid appropriate review.”

Smith can no longer rule on the Vialva appeal, Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia on October 13 appointed visiting U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman to the case, but three days later Pitman stepped aside.

Garcia appointed Yeakel to hear further issues in the cases.

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.

Executions Scheduled for Two Federal Inmates

Christopher Andre Vialva murdered youth ministers Todd and Stacie Bagley in 1999.  While stopping to use a payphone in Killeen, Texas, Todd Bagley agreed to give a ride to Vialva and two of his accomplices.  In the victims’ car, Vialva pulled out a gun, forced the Bagleys into the trunk, and drove the vehicle for several hours, stopping at ATMs to withdraw money from the couple’s bank account and trying to pawn Stacie Bagley’s wedding ring.  While locked in the trunk, the couple spoke with their abductors about God and pleaded for their lives.  Vialva eventually parked at a remote site on the Fort Hood, Texas, military reservation, where an accomplice doused the car with lighter fluid as the couple sang and prayed.  Vialva then shot Todd Bagley in the head, killing him instantly, and shot Stacie Bagley in the face, knocking her unconscious and leaving her to die of smoke inhalation after an accomplice set the car on fire.  In June 2000, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas found Vialva guilty of, among other offenses, two counts of murder within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States and unanimously recommended two death sentences.  His convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal, and his requests for collateral relief were rejected by every court that considered them.  Vialva’s execution is scheduled for Sept. 24, 2020.