Murder Conviction Reversed After Prosecutor Shows Jury 100 Prejudicial Power Point Slides During Closing Arguments

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

walker-guilty-photoAfter what was declared to be prosecutorial misconduct, the Washington Supreme Court reversed a jury conviction of Odies Delandus Walker. The defendant was convicted as being an accomplice to first degree murder, first degree assault, first degree robbery, solicitation, and conspiracy after a robbery at a Lakewood Walmart.

In closing arguments during trial, the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office showed the jury a PowerPoint presentation having over one hundred of a total of approximately two hundred fifty slides having headings such as “DEFENDANT WALKER GUILTY OF PREMEDITATED MURDER,” including one slide having a booking photograph of Walker altered to have “GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT” superimposed in boldfaced red letters over his photograph. Additional photographs presented included those of Walker and his family juxtaposed with those of the murder victim emblazoned with inflammatory captions.

Walker asked the court to address if such actions violated his right to a fair trial due to the prejudicial nature of the presentation.

According to court documents the events alleged in the crimes were as follows: (note course language)

During the relevant time period, Walker lived with his girlfriend, Tonie  Marie Williams-Irby; several of their children; and alker’s cousin, Calvin Finley.  Williams-Irby worked at a Walmart in Lakewood as a department manager.  Williams-Irby told Walker, Finley, and another friend (Jonathan) that she knew  what time an armored truck arrived each day to pick up the store’s daily receipts and knew the average daily amount of those receipts from staff meetings. Several  weeks later, Walker discussed the armored truck with Finley and Jonathan, saying  it would be “easy money.”

During this preliminary planning stage, Walker and Finley discussed the possibility  that Finley might need to shoot the armored truck custodian. Walker told Finley to  “do what you got to do,” and that Walker would provide a gun.  Williams-Irby was aware of these plans and would regularly answer Walker’s  questions about the amount of the store’s daily receipts.  On the day of the crime, Walker drove Williams-Irby to work and asked her  to find out what the day’s receipts would be. Williams-Irby went to the daily staff  meeting and reported to Walker that the day’s receipts totaled $207,000. Walker  and Finley then drove to the Walmart in a white Buick Oldsmobile. Turpin arrived  in a gold Nissan Maxima, then entered the parked Buick. When the armored truck  arrived to pick up the money, Finley and Turpin entered the store while Walker  remained in the Buick. Finley was armed with a handgun. As the armored truck  custodian reached the store entrance to leave, Finley and Turpin approached him
and Finley shot him in the head, killing him. Finley and Turpin grabbed the money  bag and fled in the Buick. Walker drove them to an alley behind a friend’s house to  ditch the car. Walker later returned to the Walmart to pick up the gold Nissan.

When Williams-Irby returned home from work, Walker told her that they  needed to go to where he had left the Buick so he could wipe away his fingerprints.  When they got there, police officers were milling around the car, so they left and  drove to another friend’s house (AI Trevino). Williams-Irby testified that on the way to Trevino’s house, Walker told her that he was in the white Buick in the  Walmart parking lot and was on the phone with Finley during the robbery. When  Finley asked for the money, the armored truck driver laughed, so Walker told  Finley to “kill the mother fucker.”

Finley and Turpin were already at Trevino’s house when Walker and  Williams-Irby arrived. After distributing some of the cash, Walker, Finley, and  Turpin placed the clothes they were wearing during the robbery and the now empty  money bag into a plastic bag, which Finley discarded in a nearby river.

Walker and Williams-Irby left Trevino’s house after about 30 minutes and  drove to a motel in Fife where Walker met up with Finley and Trevino. Walker and  Williams-Irby then drove to a Walmart in Federal Way, and Walker bought two  safes and a video game system. Walker kept one safe for himself and drove back to  Fife to give the other safe to Finley. Walker and Williams-Irby then returned home,  where Walker put a gun and his share of the robbery proceeds in his safe and put  the safe and the video game system in his bedroom closet.

Walker then took Williams-Irby and their children out for dinner at Red  Lobster.  At dinner, Walker told Williams-Irby’s son, “This is how you murder  these niggers and get this money.” Walker paid the bill for the meal,  nearly $200, in cash. Police pulled over and arrested Walker and Williams-Irby as  they drove home from the restaurant.

Williams-Irby told police she didn’t know  anything. When interviewed by police, Walker denied having any involvement  with the robbery.  Williams-Irby was charged and, after entering into a plea agreement with the  State, testified against Walker consistent with the above factual summary. The  State charged Walker as an accomplice to aggravated first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, first degree assault, first degree robbery, first  degree solicitation to commit robbery, and first degree conspiracy to commit  robbery. The State also sought deadly weapon enhancements for the murder,  assault, and robbery charges.

The Supreme Court noted the following aspects of the PowerPoint presentation:

walker-beat-thisDuring closing remarks, the prosecutor utilized a PowerPoint presentation
made up of approximately 250 slides. Over 100 of those slides have the heading  “DEFENDANT WALKER GUILTY OF PREMEDITATED MURDER.”  Two slides have the heading  “DEFENDANT WALKER GUILTY OF ASSAULT IN THE FIRST  DEGREE,” and three have the heading “DEFENDANT WALKER  GUILTY OF SOLICITATION TO COMMIT ROBBERY.” The  Power Point also includes a slide superimposing the words “GUILTY BEYOND A  REASONABLE DOUBT” over Walker’s booking. The record  contains only grayscale copies of the slides, but the briefing indicates that the  lettering was in bright red.

There is a series of slides suggesting Walker is guilty because he used the stolen money for video games and lobster. The first asserts, “Defendant Walker is  GUILTY as an ACCOMPLICE to the murder because he SPLURGED ON  FRIVOLOUS THINGS.” The next slides explain that those splurges  included “[two] safes, a WII [sic] and several games at the Federal Way Walmart,”  as well as “$200.00 for dinner at the Red Lobster.” The next slide is a  photo of Walker and his family happily eating that dinner.

Several other slides include photographs that were admitted exhibits, but
altered with captions, headings, and superimposed text. For example, one slide is a photograph of money seized by police with the heading “MONEY IS MORE  IMPORTANT THAN HUMAN LIFE.”

Another particularly problematic example of admitted exhibits altered with inflammatory text comes near the end of the presentation. First, a slide depicts an  in-life photograph of the victim with a superimposed heading reading  “DEFENDANT’S GREED AND CALLOUS DISREGARD FOR HUMAN  LIFE” and text detailing the money stolen and its distribution amongst the  participants. That slide is juxtaposed with the one immediately following  it, the same photograph of Walker and his family eating dinner at the Red Lobster  used earlier, but this time with a caption “‘THIS IS HOW YOU MURDER AND ROB NIGGERS NEXT TIME IT WILL BE MORE MONEY.”‘ Next  comes Walker’s booking photograph, altered with the caption, ‘”WE ARE  GOING TO BEAT THIS,”‘ contrasted with the final image, an in-life photograph  of the victim.

Walker argued that the prosecutor committed reversible misconduct primarily in the PowerPoint presentation used during the closing argument.

Odies Walker
Odies Walker

The court held that the prosecutor’s duty is to seek justice, not merely convictions. Per State v. Monday a “prosecutor must enforce the law by prosecuting those who have violated the peace and dignity of the state by breaking the law.” At the same time, a prosecutor “functions as the representative of the people in a quasi-judicial capacity in a search for justice.” A prosecutor does not fulfill either role by securing a conviction based on proceedings that violate a defendant’s right to a fair trial—such convictions in fact undermine the integrity of our entire criminal justice system. We fail to appreciate why the prosecutor felt these slides were necessary to secure a conviction, and remain committed to the words of Fielding, which resonate as strongly today as when they were first made over 100 years ago.

[A] Public prosecutor… is a quasi-judicial officer, representing the People of the state and presumed to act impartially in the interest only of justice. If he lays aside the impartiality that should characterize his official action to become a heated partisan, and by vituperation of the prisoner and appeals to prejudice seeks to procure a conviction at all hazards, he ceases to properly represent the public interest, which demands no victim, and asks no conviction through the aid of passion, sympathy or resentment.

While it is an acceptable practice in Washington for attorneys to use multimedia during all phases of trial the prosecutor has the duty to “subdue courtroom zeal,” and not add to it, in order to ensure the defendant receives a fair trial.

The Court had no difficulty in holding the prosecutor’s conduct in the case as being improper, and went further by stating that though closing argument provides an opportunity to draw the jury’s attention to the evidence presented, it does not give the prosecutor the right to present altered versions of admitted evidence to support the State’s theory of the case, to present derogatory depictions of the defendant, or to express personal opinions in the defendant’s guilt. Moreover, RPC 3.4(e) expressly prohibits a lawyer from vouching for any witness’s credibility or stating a personal opinion “on the guilt of innocence of an accused.” The court held that the “prosecution committed serious misconduct here in the portions of its Power Point presentation discussed above-it included multiple exhibits that were altered with inflammatory captions and superimposed text; it suggested to the jury that Walker should be convicted because he is a callous and greedy person who spent the robbery proceeds on video games and lobster; it plainly juxtaposed photographs of the victim with photographs of Walker and his family, some altered with racially inflammatory text; and it repeatedly and emphatically expressed a personal opinion on Walker’s guilt.

The Court reversed Walker’s convictions and remanded for a new trial.

By Darren Smith

Source:

STATE v. ODIES DELANDUS WALKER (89830-8) (PDF)

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38 thoughts on “Murder Conviction Reversed After Prosecutor Shows Jury 100 Prejudicial Power Point Slides During Closing Arguments”

  1. Paul C….that is another reason I am always suspect of purely circumstantial cases, even when it appears to be for the good of society at large.

  2. Richard said…

    If jurors believe the attorney is honest and has information not available to them then they may attach value to his opinion though they don’t know the basis for it.

    And therein lies the problem of personal opinion intervention in a case.

    1. Aridog – there is a study that shows that most of the jury makes up its mind during the opening statements.

  3. It the photos were not admitted into evidence during the trial then the prosecutor cannot show them in closing argument. The judge needs to be removed from the bench.

  4. Why he cant use the picture: Because it is not HIS own words. The photo is sayng that the boys in the police station think he is guilty. The boys may not have testified. Who took the photo and put the words on the front? You can not put the Mayor on the stand and have him say that the guy is guilty. Or the juror might think: oh, there are people who found him guilty before, we might be the second trial, the second jury.

  5. This is one bit of technology that is not ready for the courts.
    Paul Schulte–I agree, if this is prejudicial then way didn’t the Judge stop it after the first few slides?
    Dust Bunny–I had the same question in my mind. He could have used the same words in his closing arguments and nothing would have been wrong–why then can’t he use his picture with those same words?
    Richard–I understand now.

    1. Gigi – remember that one picture is worth a thousand words. Plus, he put it in bold red.

  6. FreeNYC, certainly a prosecutor who was a potential witness would be disqualified. But as attorneys, we often know information that is excluded from trial for a variety of reasons. We are not permitted to do or say anything to suggest to a jury that they should decide a certain way because we know the truth or believe certain things to be true. That makes the credibility of the attorney an issue–If jurors believe the attorney is honest and has information not available to them then they may attach value to his opinion though they don’t know the basis for it. The jury is to listen to arguments in order to assist them in weighing the evidence. Arguments may not provide additional evidence to be weighed in the form of the attorney’s own opinion or beliefs.

  7. WTF is what that n*****s quote? Why would he think it was okay to drop the n-bomb on a photo and show it to a jury? WTH is wrong with this guy…

  8. There is a difference between the prosecutor saying the evidence will persuade you he is guilty, and I personally know him to be guilty. The first is permitted, the second is absolutely forbidden. By repeatedly using uninformative but emotionally charged images, the prosecutor directed the jury’ attention away from evidence to an emotional reaction rather than the other way round.

  9. I’m with Bailers here on this. I don’t understand the outrage.

    “Where does this differ from the Prosecutor presenting his/her case that implies they personally believe the defendant to be guilty?”

    Doesn’t the prosecutor already tell the jury that the defendant is guilty. They wouldn’t be prosecuting (supposedly) if they thought otherwise. Right?? He/she lays it all out and asks the jury to come in with a guilty verdict.

    If the prosecutor can stand up and in summation detail how the defendant is guilty in a verbal manner and why the jury should convict and why they should come in with a stronger penalty than a lesser one…… He can…right? Why is this different and more prejudicial? Is it because it is in writing and not verbal? Is it because it was in a power point program. A very LONG one I might add.

    Seriously. Lawyers. ‘Splain this to us lay people

  10. Why? He presented a summation! Defendant Walker Guilty! That’s the case they’re trying to prove. The conviction was overturned and they will retry the case. Many convictions get overturned, I don’t think this behavior is really delving into the realm of the unethical, it deals with what we consider traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Appeals thought it was over the top, fine, I will respect the rule of law. But it’s not like the prosecutor isn’t going to be SAYING the very things in the power point slides.

  11. The law school that this prosecutor graduated from is hanging it’s head in shame and embarrassment.

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