By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
After 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:
During 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.
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
STATE v. ODIES DELANDUS WALKER (89830-8) (PDF)
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