Marine’s death sentence overturned
02-22-2010 06:29 PM
A Marine who has spent nearly two decades on death row for plotting the murder of two fellow Marines and helping to cover up the crimes was resentenced to life in the brig on Friday, after the appeals court overturned his original sentence.
Lance Cpl. Wade Walker was sentenced to death by a general court martial in 1993 for the murder of Lance Cpls. Rodney L. Page and Christopher Q. James, both of whom were killed within days of each other in Jacksonville, N.C., in March 1992. Lance Cpl. Kenneth Parker, who fired the weapon in both murders, also received a death sentence — he now is the only Marine on death row.
Walker was sentenced on two counts of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, two counts of premeditated murder, robbery, adultery and kidnapping.
He appealed and, in July 2008, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out the conspiring to commit premeditated murder and robbery convictions involving Page. It upheld all the others, including an adultery conviction for an affair Walker had with James’ wife, but it overturned the sentence, requiring the new punishment.
His most recent court-martial began at Quantico in late January and, on Feb. 4, the jury — seven officers and six enlisted Marines — found Walker guilty once again of the two charges the appeals court had tossed out. They sentenced him Feb. 19 to life in prison, reduced his paygrade to private, and gave him a dishonorable discharge from the Corps for all charges.
The jury needed a unanimous decision for Walker to once again receive the death penalty.
It’s unclear how many jurors favored death and how many sought life in prison because they are prohibited by law from disclosing that information, said Lt. Col. John Baker, one of three attorneys who defended Walker.
“Wade Walker is not the same guy that he was then. He’s had 17 years to prove that he is good,” Baker said.
The case dates back to March 26, 1992, when Walker and five other Marines were drinking in the barracks at Camp Lejeune, N.C., discussing rumors that a group of white males planned to lynch a black person on base, according to court records.
The intoxicated Marines were angry about the racial rumors and decided to send their own message. They threw a shotgun in the back of their white Chevy Corsica and took off, planning to find and kill a random white person, then take his wallet to make the murder look like a robbery gone bad, according to court documents.
Pointing out Page, Walker said that was “the guy” they were going to get. Parker then shot Page in an alley at close range while Walker remained in the car.
Four days later, Walker and Parker drove to James’ house. Their plan was to invite him to a party at the barracks so they could lure him out of the house and kill him.
The three Marines drove to a deserted road in the woods, where Walker and Parker pulled James out of the car. Parker shot him in the chest with the same shotgun. Walker and Parker got back in the car and drove away.
During closing arguments, prosecutors reasoned that Walker’s crime was unforgivable.
“In this case, justice can only mean one thing. In this case, justice means the death penalty — the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime,” Lt. Col. William Brown, one of the members of trial counsel, told the jury.
Baker said after the sentence that he did not know what to expect from the jury.
“It’s a case where you have two horrific crimes with two families that were devastated,” he said. “You compare that against the changes Walker has made in his life.”
What it probably came down to was Walker’s good behavior in jail, Baker said.
“That certainly was the best evidence we had,” he added.
The case will automatically be appealed to the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, which overturned the original sentence.
In October, Parker appeared at Camp Lejeune for an evidentiary hearing where he tried to claim he was mentally retarded, which would have automatically taken him off of death row. However, a psychologist said his IQ was 92, close to the average score of 100. A person must have an IQ of 70 or below to be considered mentally retarded.
Parker’s appeal is still pending.
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