Citing "horrendous crimes," a federal appeals court on Thursday reinstated the murder conviction and death sentence of condemned Santa Clara County killer Marvin Pete Walker Jr., one of the longest serving inmates on California's death row.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal judge's previous ruling that set aside Walker's 1980 murder conviction and death sentence. The Circuit Court rejected the argument that the jury's verdict was tainted by Walker having been improperly shackled in front of jurors throughout the trial. It was not "reasonably probable" the shackling influenced the jury's decision, the appeals court concluded.
Walker's shackling was "trivial in comparison to the magnitude of his crimes," 9th Circuit Judge Barry Silverman wrote for the court.
Judge Ronald Gould partially dissented from the decision, saying he would have left the murder conviction intact but overturn the death sentence. Gould wrote that he had "grave doubt about whether Walker still would have been sentenced to death" if the jury had evaluated his case without seeing him in leg shackles during the trial, given his background and the fact he was a teen at the time of the crime.
U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong in 2011 overturned Walker's death sentence, saying that forcing him to "wear visible and painful restraints ... undermined the dignity of the judicial process."
Attorney General Kamala Harris' office appealed
Nanci Clarence, one of Walker's lawyers, declined to comment. But Walker can ask the 9th Circuit to reconsider the decision with an 11-judge panel. With other legal claims remaining in the federal courts, it likely will be years before Walker would have an execution date.
Walker is on death row for the 1979 murder of Joseph Vasquez, a 15-year-old Mt. Pleasant High School student, and for wounding two others during a $150 liquor store holdup in San Jose.
During the trial, Walker also was convicted of assaulting, robbing and critically wounding 20-year-old Rosa Olveda during a separate holdup at a San Jose medical center.
At the time of the crimes, Walker was 19. In his appeals, Walker has maintained that his brother-in-law and convicted accomplice, Rupert Lee Harper, was the shooter in the liquor store murder. Harper, who has given conflicting accounts, is serving a 15-year-to-life term for second-degree murder.
But the shackling issue was the focus of the 9th Circuit's ruling on Thursday.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz