By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Jimmy Walker seemed hell-bent on taking a bad situation and making it ten times worse.
Although ten times might be a conservative multiplier.
On September 20, at an age when most young men are embarking on adult life, the 23-year-old was sentenced in Broward County Circuit Court to life in prison as a habitual felony offender. And then he made that ugly future even more wretched with the most violent courtroom outburst in memory. "In the seven years I've been in the courthouse," says Louis Pironti, a court- appointed attorney representing Walker, "I've never heard of anything like it."
It's understandable Walker was upset that Friday as he sat handcuffed in the jury box while awaiting a decree from Judge James Cohn, especially since the incident that led to this day wasn't murder, rape, child molestation, or some other heinous act for which you might understand a life sentence. It all started, in a way, because his favorite cousin was on his deathbed in a hospital in Daytona Beach on June 2, 2000, and Walker wanted to see him. Visiting a dying cousin isn't a crime, but many of the bad choices Walker made before that day, on that day, and in the period leading up to September 20 were consistently, if kind of stupidly, criminal.
On the day of his outburst, another of Walker's attorneys, Bruce Raticoff, told his client they had a good chance of winning an appeal after a jury found the Pompano Beach man guilty of carjacking with a firearm, attempted armed carjacking, and grand theft in the third degree. Raticoff says Walker was denied a speedy trial. But even if the appeals court clears the young man, he will likely reach middle age by the time he again tastes freedom. The reason: his irrational behavior in Cohn's court. "A simple sentencing he has turned into another 30 years in prison," Raticoff says.
As Walker sat in the jury box with other repeat offenders who were to be sentenced that Friday, he tried to enter a motion that might have led the judge to throw out his conviction. Cohn asked Raticoff if he would put forward the motion, which a fellow inmate had prepared for Walker. Raticoff said he would not; he didn't agree with the strategy or the soundness of the arguments. He thought Walker had the best chance for a review of the case on appeal. "I don't adopt other people's motions," Raticoff said.
Determined to avoid sentencing, Walker stood up and walked out of the jury box, according to a report filed by Broward County Court Deputy Thomas Hutchinson. Another court deputy, Nelson Foice, ordered Walker to sit down. But the six-foot, 180-pound defendant shoved Foice out of the way and kept moving. Foice lunged for Walker, and the two fell into the jury box while another court deputy, Ray Reilly, jumped into the fray.
From the back, Walker's family surged forward while Hutchinson rushed to the aid of the deputies. Raticoff says he yelled at the family to stay back while Walker kicked at, punched, and fought off Foice and Reilly. When Hutchinson saw that the two men were losing the battle, he squirted Walker with pepper spray.
"And then the bailiffs just go flying," Raticoff recalls. "[Walker] is now roving around the courtroom. He throws over the defense table, and papers are flying everywhere. He throws over the prosecution table. Those things weigh 100, 150 pounds. Prosecutors are diving for cover. He is tossing chairs around. And then he starts for the judge."
The way Raticoff describes the scene, a "cavalry" of Broward Sheriff's deputies charged into the courtroom, knocked Walker down, maced him, and finally regained control. After Walker was subdued, Cohn sentenced a bruised and bleary-eyed Walker. And the cops were readying even more charges relating to the courtroom antics. "So he winds up with three counts of obstructing an officer with violence, which carries sentences of ten years each," Raticoff says.
The judge, a prosecuting attorney, court deputies, a sheriff's deputy, and his own defense attorney are all witnesses. "It is a very uncomfortable position to be in," Raticoff says. Defendants are regularly sentenced to life in prison in Cohn's repeat-offender court, the public defender says, so he's surprised such scenes don't occur more often.
Given the violent and vicious courtroom outburst, you might think most people who've dealt with Walker would breathe a sigh of relief knowing he will be behind bars for good. But you'd be wrong. Not everyone sees Walker as a raging, subhuman, valueless, out-of-control mad dog.
Bail bondsman Dorothy Walker, who is no relation to Jimmy, thinks the whole situation is horribly tragic. She is the one Walker was fleeing when he was arrested June 7 on the armed carjacking and other charges. "People just fall through the cracks," she says, "and I think he is one that fell through the cracks. The Jimmy that I knew was just as good as gold."
If Walker's not a monster, neither is he a Boy Scout. He had racked up an impressive criminal record even before he tried to visit his dying cousin. Indeed, before he reached 16 years old, he had been arrested on felony charges of burglary of a vehicle and grand larceny. And he had been nailed five times on felony-level cocaine sale and delivery charges. His rap sheet from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is four pages long.