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.
The day in June when he drove to Daytona Beach, he didn't have a valid Florida driver's license. Dorothy Walker says that Jimmy sped off when police tried to pull him over in Volusia County for a traffic violation. When he was arrested, Walker fought off police. He was charged with aggravated assault with a weapon and fleeing a law enforcement officer at a high rate of speed.
Through her Belle Glade office, Dorothy Walker helped to bond Jimmy out of jail. As a favor to Jimmy and his mother, whom New Times could not locate, Dorothy Walker set up payment arrangements for the family. She says Jimmy didn't have the money because he couldn't find an employer who would hire him despite his lengthy rap sheet. When he missed a payment, he came by her office, apologized, and asked if there was anything he could do around the place. Dorothy Walker believes that implies something about Jimmy's character. "He was very concerned, very caring, open, and honest with me," she says. "He was always, 'yes, ma'am,' 'no, ma'am.' You could tell he had some good upbringing. He could have just run away, but he said, 'I'm not running. I owe you, and I'd like to do some work to pay off the money.' I didn't have work to do, but you find some for somebody like that."
On January 8, 2001, Jimmy Walker was supposed to arrive at Dorothy's office in the morning. She planned to drive him to Volusia County for a court appearance on his Daytona arrest. When he didn't show, Dorothy drove to Jimmy's Pompano Beach home. She knocked on the door, but Walker wouldn't let family members open it. Walker says Jimmy's mother told her he had been acting paranoid when he came home the night before. "Something had clicked," Dorothy Walker says. She went to her car to notify police. While she was on the telephone, Walker dashed out of the house, jumped into a black Nissan (which later proved to be stolen), and drove off.
Rick Crawford was in his driveway at SW Tenth Street in Margate with his car running when Walker drove up in the Nissan and pleaded for help. Walker pulled on the door handle, and when the door wouldn't open, he begged Crawford to let him into the house. Crawford dialed 911 on his cell phone. Walker hopped back into the Nissan and drove off.
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Two blocks away, Terry Mullings also had his 1995 black Mazda 626 in the driveway with the engine running. Walker ran up to the car, opened the passenger door, and climbed inside. He told Mullings he was being chased by police. Mullings yelled at Walker to get out of his car. The two wrestled. And then Walker pulled a chrome handgun from his pocket, pointed it at Mullings' chest, and told him to get out of the car. Mullings did, and Walker drove off in the Mazda, leaving behind the Nissan with his wallet, his Florida identification card, and a woman's purse inside. He next drove to a Publix in North Lauderdale. There, he pulled a gun on Romana Troublefield as she was about to get back into her truck after using an ATM. "Give me the keys. Give me the truck or I will shoot you," Walker told her, according to a complaint affidavit filed after the incident. After Walker grabbed Troublefield's keys, she grabbed them back, and her key chain broke. Walker jumped back into the Mazda and sped away, but he dropped some photographs at the scene, duplicates of pictures that were inside the Nissan he had abandoned when he took Mullings' Mazda.
On December 10, 2001, several months after he had been captured, Walker was sentenced to two years in prison in the Volusia County case. He had been in jail on those charges since March 2001. In April of that same year, Broward County charged him with carjacking with a firearm, attempted carjacking, and grand theft in the third degree. He completed his sentence on the Volusia charges September 17, 2002. But by then, he had already been found guilty in the Broward case. "When we went to trial, he got hammered," Raticoff says. "The evidence against him was pretty overwhelming."
Because Walker's arraignment on the Broward charges was delayed beyond the period of time the law requires, Raticoff filed an appeal September 20. Although, because of Walker's courtroom outburst, it probably won't matter much.
Dorothy Walker wishes the outcome had been different. She believes that Jimmy Walker suffers from a mental illness that was not properly treated while he was in jail. "It is really a pity," she says. "With Jimmy, I think that with the right medication and the right counseling, he could be a productive member of society."