By Kent Faulk | firstname.lastname@example.org
BESSEMER, Alabama – Nathan Gast, sentenced to life in prison for the 1992 beating deaths of two Oneonta boys, was released from prison Thursday afternoon.
Bessemer Cutoff Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge David Carpenter on Wednesday vacated the life sentence of Gast, 37, of Hueytown. The judge re-sentenced Gast to the time – about 20 years - he had already served and ordered him released from the Alabama Department of Corrections' Fountain Correctional Center in Atmore.
Carpenter on Thursday amended his order to re-sentence Gast to 20 years in prison, split time served, and ordered Gast's release. The prison system released Gast about 12:30 p.m. Thursday from the county jail in Bessemer where he had been brought for the hearing, his attorney said.
Prosecutors did not oppose the request by Gast's attorney for his release, according to court documents.
Gast was 15 and allegedly a member in the Gangster Disciples street gang when he was arrested for the Feb. 8, 1992 deaths of Mollan Allen Eakes, 15, and Kevin Eugene Duncan, 14. Gast pleaded guilty to one count of murder and one count of attempted murder related to an attack on a girl. Two other teens also were convicted in connection with the murders.
Gast's attorney, Tommy Spina, in May had asked the court to vacate the life sentence against Gast.
"We are very grateful for the relief afforded Mr. Gast," Spina said after Wednesday's hearing. "He has spent the last 20 years in prison. It was always contemplated, in negotiating his plea in 1994, that he would serve at least 15 years before he would be released. Today, the intent of the original plea agreement was met by the Order that was entered."
Spina argued in his motion that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 had ruled in another Alabama case that automatic life without the possibility of parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. While Gast did have the possibility of parole, he had been turned down a number of times for parole, turning his life sentence into a "defacto" life without parole sentence.
Eakes' family had opposed Gast's efforts at parole in the past, according to a 2010 Fox6 News report.
Christopher Thrasher and Carvin Stargell, who also were teens at the time of the slayings, were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
In the past year both Thrasher and Stargell have tried, but have failed, to be resentenced under the Miller v. Alabama ruling.
Carpenter had originally agreed to re-sentence Stargell, but the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals earlier this month reversed the judge's decision. The appeals court decision was based in part on its ruling earlier this year that inmates serving life without parole for crimes that happened when they were juveniles can't retroactively take advantage of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Miller v. Alabama.
Eakes, 15, and Duncan, 14, were found dead in Shades Creek under an Alabama 150 bridge in Bessemer, on Feb. 9, 1992. Each had been repeatedly beaten in the head with a baseball bat and left to drown.
Prosecutors alleged that after the boys were killed, Thrasher, Stargell and Gast tried to kill a then 14-year-old girl - by beating her with the same bat - because she knew too much.
"Nathan was instrumental in saving (the girl's) life as he and I rode with the police till 2 am to point out where she had been left," Spina stated in an email. "When she was found she was still alive."
Updated at 2:05 p.m. July 3, 2014 to reflect Gast's release and judge's amended order. Updated again at 6:10 p.m. July 3 with comment from Spina regarding Gast's help in saving the girl.