Vancouver man gets 6.5 years for shooting neighbor

Dispute over loud music precipitated struggle, man's death

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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photoChristopher D. Paul was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison Wednesday for fatally shooting his neighbor during a dispute over loud music.

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photoTim Walswick, father of Eric Walswick, is comforted by family friend Carol Wiseman at the sentencing of Christopher D. Paul for Eric Walswick's death in 2012.

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A Vancouver man was sentenced Wednesday in Clark County Superior Court to 61/2 years in prison for the March 2012 shooting death of an unarmed neighbor who played loud car stereo music in the parking lot of their Cascade Park apartment complex.

Christopher D. Paul, 32, pleaded guilty March 26 to the first-degree manslaughter of Eric Walswick in exchange for prosecutors dismissing a second-degree murder charge. While expressing remorse Wednesday for Walswick's death, Paul continued to claim he shot the 26-year-old in self-defense after he confronted Walswick at around 4 a.m. and a struggle ensued in the parking lot of the Village at Cascade Park Apartments, 501 S.E. 123rd Ave. in Vancouver.

"I acted because I believed my weapon would be turned against me," Paul said.

Nearly 30 people filled the courtroom's public gallery to attend the sentencing hearing in front of Judge Robert Lewis. They included the victim's family and friends and members of the Greater Portland Area Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.

The victim's mother, Lori Walswick, asked the judge to sentence Paul to the maximum of 8.5 years.

She said she and her husband, Tim, learned of their son's death while they were on vacation in Hawaii. Authorities had left five voice mails on their cellphone. The first messages were cryptic. The last message was from the coroner's office, she said.

"My boy was with me every other day," Lori Walswick said, her voice breaking. "… I am at such a loss. I don't cook anymore. I don't want to go anywhere."

The victim's father, Tim Walswick, said that had his son survived, he would have graduated from Washington State University Vancouver last month with a bachelor's degree in business. His son went directly to college after serving in the U.S. Navy and planned to return to the military as an officer. He was the first in his family to serve in the military and to attend a university, Walswick said.

Paul woke up around 4 a.m. on March 3, 2012, to loud music blasting from an occupied vehicle in the parking lot. He left his apartment armed with his Glock 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and went outside in the rain and darkness to confront the occupant, whom he'd never met, according to Senior Deputy Prosecutor Alan Harvey.

Paul claimed that he and Walswick exchanged no words. He said Walswick attacked him, and a struggle ensued. He said he shot Walswick because he feared Walswick would turn his weapon against him. Walswick was killed from a gunshot wound to the head.

Steven Thayer, Paul's attorney, argued that steroids found in Walswick's blood supported Paul's claim that Walswick was the aggressor. Paul, who had no other criminal history, did everything right under the circumstances, including reporting to and cooperating with police, Thayer said. Paul tried to flee from Walswick for about 30 feet before shooting him, Thayer said. He asked the judge to sentence Paul to the 17 months he's already spent in jail and allow him to go home.

He said Paul pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter only because it substantially reduced Paul's potential sentence. A second-degree murder conviction could have carried a sentence of up to 23-plus years.

"Even an innocent man can't afford to turn the courtroom into a casino," Thayer said.

Lewis said Paul's introduction of a gun into the confrontation and poor visibility caused both men to focus on getting control of the weapon rather than resolving Paul's grievance about the loud music.

"The presence of the weapon made you feel you could confront someone you couldn't see," Lewis said.

Lewis noted that had either man communicated with words during the confrontation, Walswick might still be alive, and Paul might be a free man.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.