The Saginaw teenager who sexually assaulted and killed 6-year-old Alanna Gallagher last year pleaded guilty to a murder charge Thursday in exchange for a life sentence, according to court documents.
Tyler Holder, 18, also pleaded guilty to an attempted capital murder charge for shooting an Arlington police officer during his arrest. Holder received a 40-year sentence on that charge, which will be stacked on top of the life sentence.
Holder must serve at least 50 years, according to a news release from the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.
“Today a dangerous killer was brought to justice,” Deputy Chief District Attorney Bob Gill said in a news release. “Tyler Holder will never pose a danger to another child. The family of Alanna Gallagher and Officer Charles Lodatto are very satisfied with this resolution of the cases.”
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Alanna’s mother, Laura Gallagher, gave a victim impact statement during a court hearing, telling Holder that while his going away to prison means he can’t hurt other children, “it does not repay for what you have done.”
“It does not bring her back to us. No matter how much suffering you undergo in prison, it won’t be as much as all the people who knew and loved Alanna have been and will continue to be suffering,” Laura Gallagher said. “I hope you remember this and that you live with shame for what you have done, every day that you live, every day that Alanna is gone from us.”
Holder’s attorneys, Mark Daniel and Tim Moore, issued a statement Thursday afternoon.
“This case has been a tragedy for everyone involved,” they said. “This resolution is in the best interests of all concerned.”
Holder also received 20 years for setting fire to a car and part of the Gallaghers’ house in the week after the slaying. That sentence will run concurrently with the life sentence.
Avoiding a ‘legal loophole’
Alanna was found dead the evening of July 1, 2013, on a Saginaw street corner, her body inside a black trash bag and wrapped in a silver tarp. Her head was covered with plastic sacks secured with red tape wrapped around her neck, according to an autopsy report.
She had been sexually assaulted.
Holder lived with his mother in the 600 block of Babbling Brook Drive, just two houses from where Alanna lived. She had last been seen playing near her home, less than a mile from where her body was found.
Holder was questioned by police July 2 but denied seeing Alanna the previous day. Days later, he agreed to provide a DNA sample.
Authorities obtained an arrest warrant after DNA test results linked Holder to DNA on Alanna’s body and on the buckle of a belt that encircled the tarp.
Officers from area agencies were arresting him July 23 when Holder pulled a gun and fired, hitting Lodatto, an Arlington police detective. Holder was also shot in the head, with his own weapon, according to prosecutors.
Because Holder was 17 at the time of Alanna’s slaying, he is not eligible for the death penalty. And in 2012, the Supreme Court declared life sentences without parole unconstitutional for defendants under 18.
In their news release, prosecutors said they proceeded on the lesser charge of murder, rather than pursue a capital murder conviction, “to avoid a legal loophole left by a high court decision.”
The murder charge allowed prosecutors to move forward “rather than navigate uncharted waters, which would delay justice,” the release says.
‘It’s your fault’
In her victim impact statement to Holder, a copy of which was provided to the Star-Telegram by the district attorney’s office, Laura Gallagher spoke of the number of people whose lives Alanna had touched in her short time — teachers, doctors, pastors, church members and even the little boy with Down syndrome whom Alanna hugged and insisted she would marry when they grew up.
The boy, Gallagher told Holder, knows that Alanna went to heaven “but still thinks she’ll come back to marry him when he’s older.”
“They’re all suffering. And it’s your fault,” she said.
She also talked of her own suffering and her family’s.
“There are no more relaxed Saturday morning snuggles with her, filled with talk and giggles,” Laura Gallagher said. “I will never again get to go wake her first on a school morning, because she always woke the most cheerfully — I’d tickle her toes and say, ‘Good morning, toes!’ and she’d laugh and say, ‘Good morning, Mama!’ and come help wake her siblings.
“Our house is emptier, and quieter, and sadder. We carry around a heavy hard stone of pain where our hearts used to be. And it’s your fault.”