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United States v. Sparks

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

October 24, 2019

TONY SPARKS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas

          Before ELROD, GRAVES, and OLDHAM, Circuit Judges. [*]


         Tony Sparks and his fellow gang members carjacked Todd and Stacie Bagley at gunpoint. The gang locked the Bagleys in the trunk for hours, emptied the Bagleys' bank account, and tried to pawn Stacie's wedding ring. During the gang's crime spree, the Bagleys sang gospel songs from the trunk and told their captors about Jesus. Eventually one of the gang members popped the trunk, cursed at the couple, and executed Todd in front of his wife. That same gang member shot Stacie in the face but failed to kill her. Others incinerated the car to destroy the evidence and burned Stacie alive.

         For his role in this crime, Sparks received a below-Guidelines 35-year sentence. Sparks says that violates the Eighth Amendment. We disagree.



         On June 20, 1999, Tony Sparks went to a convenience store in Killeen, Texas, with Christopher Vialva and Christopher Lewis.[1] The three of them were members of a local gang known as the 212 PIRU Bloods. They planned to dupe a Good Samaritan into giving them a ride before carjacking him or her at gunpoint. Sparks brought the gun, a .22 caliber pistol.

         Police initially thwarted the plan by detaining the trio for violating the city's juvenile curfew law. (Sparks was 16 at the time.) Before being detained, Lewis threw the pistol into the bushes. Sparks's mother picked up Sparks and Lewis, and Vialva was released because he was an adult.

         The following day, Sparks, Vialva, and Lewis regrouped. They recruited two other members of their gang, Brandon Bernard and Terry Brown, to help with the carjacking. Vialva and Bernard retrieved the .22 caliber pistol that Lewis had discarded the night before. Because it was wet with dew, they worried that it would not function. So Bernard obtained a Glock .40 caliber pistol to use for the carjacking.

         That afternoon, the five gang members went to an IGA supermarket to find a carjacking victim. Bernard and Brown acted as lookouts while Sparks, Vialva, and Lewis approached potential victims to ask for a ride. No one offered them a ride, so they drove to a "Mickey's" convenience store. Bernard and Brown went to a nearby laundromat to play video games. Sparks, Vialva, and Lewis went to the front of the convenience store.

          Shortly after arriving at the convenience store, Sparks found Todd Bagley using a payphone outside. Todd and his wife Stacie were youth ministers from Iowa. They'd previously lived in Killeen because Todd was a veteran of the U.S. Army and had been stationed at Fort Hood. The young couple had gone to church at Grace Christian, where they worked with the youth group. They were back in Killeen on a vacation to see old friends and attend a revival meeting at the church.

         Sparks approached Todd and asked if he would give Sparks, Vialva, and Lewis a ride to another location. Todd conferred with Stacie, and the young couple unsuspectingly agreed to give the gang members a ride. Bernard and Brown returned to their homes to wait for further instructions from Vialva.

         Sparks, Vialva, and Lewis got into the back seat of the Bagleys' car. Todd drove while his wife sat in the front passenger seat. In accordance with their plan, Sparks and Vialva pulled out two handguns, and Vialva pointed his gun at Todd. Vialva told the Bagleys that the "plan had changed," and he forced Todd to drive to a semi-rural location near the edge of Killeen. While Vialva pointed a gun at the Bagleys, Sparks and Vialva robbed them of their money, wallets, purse, debit card, identification, and jewelry. Vialva demanded their bank account's pin number and then forced the Bagleys into the trunk of their car.

         With the Bagleys locked in the trunk, Sparks, Vialva, and Lewis went on an hours-long crime spree. They went to an ATM to steal all of the Bagleys' money. That effort was frustrated, however, because the youth ministers had less than $100 in their bank account. They tried to pawn Stacie's wedding ring. They used what little money they could steal from the Bagleys to buy cigars, cigarettes, and fast food from Wendy's.

         Meanwhile, the Bagleys evangelized from the trunk. According to Lewis (who later testified), the Bagleys asked him and Sparks about God, Jesus, and church. The Bagleys acknowledged not having earthly wealth, but they told their captors that faith in Jesus is more valuable than money. The Bagleys talked about the revival meeting at Grace Christian. And ...

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