A 24-year-old northeast Iowa man will spend the rest of his life in prison for murdering a popular high school football coach. A jury convicted Mark Becker of first degree murder in early March and a judge today handed down the mandatory sentence of life in prison late this morning.  

Becker shot Aplington-Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas to death last June in the school’s weight training room. The Becker and Thomas families were in the courtroom for today’s sentencing and seven members of the Thomas family made “victim impact statements.”

Todd Thomas, the son of the slain coach, was first to speak, saying his father had tried to help Becker kick his drug habit. Thomas broke down, saying it was hard not to be angry that his children will not get to know their grandfather. His brother, Aaron Thomas, talked directly to Becker, saying he sees the “hurt” in the eyes of so many in Parkersburg, including the nearly two dozen A-P students who witnessed the shooting.

One of the coach’s daughter-in-laws said her young sons are having nightmares that someone is trying to shoot them. The coach’s younger brother said he believed the devil had used Becker to remove Ed Thomas from this Earth, but it had back fired because more people now know of the Christian life the coach had lived. Greg Thomas told Becker he would pray for him. 

Jan Thomas, the wife of the coach, was the last Thomas family member to speak.  She spoke lovingly of her husband and told Becker he needed to “man-up” and take responsibility for his actions.

The prosecutor told the judge a life prison sentence was “well-deserved” in this case. The judge said he had worried about what he’d say today, calling the shooting of Thomas a “senseless, brutal” murder.  Judge Stephen Carroll said Thomas was a “man of God”and his murder was a “confounding event for which there is no satisfactory explanation.” 

There was never a dispute about Becker’s mental illness, according to the judge, but Carroll told Becker he made choices which have inflicted a “nightmare” on his hometown, the Thomas family and his own family.  The judge said the life sentence may provide the Thomas family “some comfort in knowing justice is served…and the community will be safe forever from (Becker’s) unpredictable, violent and callous acts.” 

Before handing down the mandatory life sentence, the judge denied a motion from Becker’s attorney seeking a new trial. Becker’s lawyer had objected to instructions the judge gave the jury and argued the verdict was contrary to the evidence presented in Becker’s trial.