SEATTLE — Saying a deputy prosecutor’s “inflammatory arguments” in a PowerPoint presentation violated a defendant’s right to a fair trial, the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday threw out the conviction of a man authorities say was involved in the killing of an armored-car guard during a 2009 Lakewood Wal-Mart robbery.
A six-justice majority ordered a new trial for Odies Walker, who allegedly helped formulate the plan to rob the store and drove the getaway car after one of the men in the group shot Loomis guard Kurt Husted in the head and they escaped with a bag of money.
It was the second time in two weeks that the state’s highest court threw out a conviction because of misconduct by a lawyer with the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Last week the court threw out the murder conviction of Darcus Dewayne Allen, accused of driving the get-away car for a man who fatally shot four Lakewood police officers in 2009. They also cited prosecutorial misconduct in May in ordering a new trial for James Lindsay. And they threw out the convictions of Edward Michael Glasmann in 2012 because of a Pierce County prosecutor’s “flagrant” misconduct.
“Pierce County has certainly earned itself a reputation for this kind of behavior,” said Greg Link, a lawyer with the Washington Appellate Project, who represented Allen in his appeal. “It has become a culture down there. At some point it’s not a coincidence that they’ve had so many cases reversed by the Supreme Court.”
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said they will likely appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I’m confident juries do their duty and base their verdicts on the evidence,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “In Mr. Walker’s case, the evidence was overwhelming and the defense attorney never objected to the PowerPoint.”
Odies Walker and his girlfriend, Tonie Williams-Irby, worked at the Lakewood Wal-Mart and pulled in two others in their plan to rob it, according to court records. Williams-Irby was a manager and knew the comings and goings of the armored truck, records said. On the day of the robbery, Walker, Calvin Finley and Marshawn Turpin drove to the Wal-Mart in separate cars, records said. Finley and Turpin went inside and confronted Husted as he was leaving the store, records said. Finley shot Husted and the three men drove away, records said.
After Walker was arrested, he denied any involvement in the robbery. He was charged with being an accomplice to aggravated first-degree murder, assault and robbery. During closing arguments, the prosecutor used a PowerPoint presentation to make his points, the records said. More than 100 of the 250 slides were headed with the words “DEFENDANT WALKER GUILTY OF PREMEDITATED MURDER.”
One slide showed Walker’s booking mug shot with the words “GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT” superimposed over his face in red letters. Another slide was a photograph of the victim with the words “DEFENDANT’S GREED AND CALLOUS DISREGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE” over the top, the court said.
The justices cited the Glasmann case in saying that sort of behavior violates the defendants’ right to a fair trial. They had thrown out Glasmann’s robbery and kidnapping conviction in 2012 because the deputy prosecutor’s electronic presentation graphically displayed slides that said “guilty, guilty, guilty,” according to court records.
“It’s regrettable that some prosecutors continue to defend these practices and the validity of convictions obtained by using them,” the justices said in the Walker ruling.
“Attorneys may use multimedia resources in closing arguments to summarize and highlight relevant evidence, and good trial advocacy encourages creative use of such tools,” the justices said. “However, advocacy has its limits, and a prosecutor has the duty to ‘subdue courtroom zeal,’ not add to it, in order to ensure the defendant receives a fair trial.”