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 ni**ers 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 NI**ERS 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. On more reflection, the judge should be kicked off the bench and relegated to doing divorce and bankruptcy cases only. He ought to hang up his shingle next to an outhouse. What a piece of apCray. Disgrace to the State where this occurred. Someone needs to send these comments to the State Bar in that state and to the judicial review board if they have one. This is about what one would expect in Cuba.

  2. I was on a trial and watched the judge dozing. The prosecutor was going over the top, waving his arms, making faces. I thought that was not allowed, but judge was snoozing. There were a couple of things that I thought were improper (based on my lawyer daughter). So I made an appointment with the head judge (?) and met with him the following week. He was polite, but I was probably wasting my time. Except the naps. He wanted to know if other jurors had seen it, and I said of course, we laughed about it.

    I came very close to telling the defense attorney afterward, but the guy was guilty, no doubt about it, so didn’t bother.

    I’ve been on four juries and can tell you at least seven of each were airheads. They didn’t understand anything. They just got tired and voted guilty. Some stretched things out for a free dinner and hotel stay. Or rushed things to get out early on a Friday.

  3. For some reason many judges doze off and allow a lawyer to show anything on a power point presentation. Allowing a photo with some sign on it saying the defendant is guilty is enough to reverse the conviction. The photos should all be screened before the slide show begins. Why is it that judges slide on this aspect of a trial?

  4. I can’t believe the trial judge let the prosecutor do all that? Did the defendnat’s attorney not object?

    In Iowa if some one wants final argumnt reported it will be reported.

  5. Methodius, I was an investigator for the prosecutors office in KC back in the 70’s/80’s. It was a tightly run ship w/ high integrity. Exculpatory evidence was always disclosed and fudging the rules was not tolerated. It comes from the top. This is bad, but the hiding evidence, or even fabricating evidence like we have seen in some posts, is IMO, more egregious.

  6. Reblogged this on terryclarke blog and commented:
    As a former prosecutor (many years ago–upon graduation from law school), I found the actions by the prosecutor in the case (as described in the post in Johnsthan Turley’s excellent blog) extremely discouraging as both an attorney and American citizen. It appears from the facts of the case that there was more than ample evidence to convict the defendants in this case, and, yet, the prosecutor had to resort to clearly unacceptable means (the trumped up PowerPoint presentation with dozens of inflammatory slides essentially proclaiming the Defendant’s guilt in large, red, superimposed words on dozens of slides. The Rule of Law in America should not and cannot call this type of grandstanding (proclaiming a defendant guilty in writing to a jury, the group of the defendant’s peers charged with making a finding of guilt or innocence).

  7. Tyger, We were in Puerto Vallarta last month. I have observed armored truck guys in major cities in the US. Well, in Mexico, there are 4 HEAVILY armed guards and they are not just phoning it in, they are on guard. I surmise it’s a real problem down there.

  8. The bright side is that it’s unlikely the verdict will be any different in a second trial that doesn’t contain the offending slides. Like DBQ, I question whether those words would have been permissible if only spoken instead of in print.

    The unfortunate side is that the state will probably only incarcerate him for a few years then turn him loose to commit more violent crimes. They should simply execute him like what was done to the armored truck guard, and not wait years to accomplish it, either.

  9. “Moreover, RPC 3.4(e) expressly prohibits a lawyer from …stating a personal opinion “on the guilt of innocence of an accused.”

    Someone help me out here. Where does this differ from the Prosecutor presenting his/her case that implies they personally believe the defendant to be guilty?

  10. The judge should have stopped this at the first Power Point and the defense should have disconnected the plug, damn the problems.
    This is too far over the edge.

  11. Serious questions….not trying to be argumentative or flip here.

    Would the prosecuting attorney have been allowed to use those words in his closing arguments. ” Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” or “Defendant’s greed and callous disregard for human life” ??

    Isn’t it his job to make those arguments and let the jury decide if they are true or not?

    Is it the problem that he plastered those words all over the power point slides instead of presenting those arguments verbally?

  12. There must be a world where those power positioned go, a world where they are driven less by the stuff they learned to get there and more by their own feelings of significance, insignificance, etc. Angela Corey comes to mind. Zimmerman is out on the loose, armed to the teeth, and mentally more unstable incident by incident, because Corey’s ego got the better of her again.

    The only way to curtail this behavior is to make the perpetrators/prosectutors pay for it.

  13. Un-freaking-believable. On second thought, I can believe it. Several prosecutors I know have had convictions reversed on grounds of abusive cross-examinations as well as introducing inadmissible evidence during closing. However, this is the most egregious case of the latter I have ever seen. Where was the judge during all this? Asleep? IMHO, the trial judge is at much at fault as the prosecutor.

  14. While this seems to be the correct decision, I’m surprised the jury didn’t find him not guilty just because the prosecutor forced them to sit through 250 Powerpoint slides. There is research that suggests that folks start to tune out after about 20 slides.

  15. Just how many taxpayer dollars will be spent on the retrial? Not very responsible behavior on the part of this prosecutor, unfortunately.

  16. I was wondering when some one was going to have some thing on imprinting a decision beyond the reason of doubt.
    That is why there is no record of the opening and closing arguments in my own case. Animorphs commonly used are forbidden by law, but are still used by prosecutors in a trial. Giving the animal a bad reputation.
    The old trick was when ad agencies and the government used the TV to have people buy or do things that they were unaware of. Flashing commercial in between the images. The subconscious brain seen them but the conscious did not. Ball games and soap operas were mostly used by ad agencies. While the news and debate shows were used by the government.
    The slides carried a message of guilt imprinted and associated with the accused.
    The other way is referring to that person as an animal or nonhuman entity.
    Why do courts not record for the record the opening and closing statements?
    In my case I was described as a spider with a lure and that I look like one of those who would do such a thing.
    The higher courts claimed I did preserve it in an argument, but SCOTUS in a similar case said that arguments like opening and closing statement are part of the whole and therefore part of the record preserved for review. That ruling was in long before my case.
    So why was I never heard on that argument?

  17. An example of the desire of prosecutors to secure a conviction regardless of the court’s rules or a prosecutor’s (clearly defined) responsibilities.

    How often do less stupid prosecutors shade the truth, hide exculpatory evidence or knowingly let policemen/lab technicians lie?

    The punishment for a prosecutor breaking his oath has to be severe enough to deter these violations ( as an example of how the system really works, see the Sen. Stevens prosecutors getting a very mild wrist slap).

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