By Marsha Miller
The seven-women, five-men jury who listened to testimony and viewed evidence in the first-degree manslaughter trial of Skyler “Luke” Walker Thursday deliberated just two hours Friday before returning a guilty verdict against the 21-year-old. Along with the guilty verdict came the jury’s sentence recommendation — 17 years for the slaying of Peyton Lockwood. District Judge Dennis Morris set formal sentencing for June 14. Walker who has been detained on a $500,000 bond since his arrest shortly after the July 29 stabbing, was returned to the Carter County Detention Center pending what is expected to be his final appearance in Carter County District Court next month.
The jury began deliberating the case Friday morning after receiving instructions from Morris and listening to the closing arguments presented by Walker’s attorney, James Gilmartin and First Assistant District Attorney Heather Cooper, who prosecuted the case. Gilmartin suggested Walker should not be held accountable for the 19-year-old victim’s death, painting Lockwood as the aggressor in the early morning altercation between the two men at a northeast side apartment complex.
Cooper rebutted the picture Gilmartin had word-painted for the jury, saying, “That’s absolutely not what the evidence showed.” She reminded jurors that witnesses had testified Lockwood was “not a stalker who had showed up,” but had been invited to the apartment earlier in the evening. Describing the victim as “a vibrant young man, Cooper said,“What happened was a tragedy but it was also a crime.”
Pointing to the hour-long taped video the jury viewed Thursday of Ardmore police interviewing Walker about 12-hours after the stabbing, the first assistant pointed to three excuses why the defendant said he had stabbed the victim:
n The victim had a death wish
n The defendant had to protect Lockwood’s former girlfriend from him. Although in her own testimony Thursday Rachel Forson told the jury she was in the bathroom at the time of the stabbing and eye witness Tyler Harper confirmed Forson was not present
n He feared for his own life — the victim was on his back and had him in a choke hold.
“We know that’s not true. We know Luke Walker was on the victim’s back,” Cooper told jurors. “The defendant refused to take responsibility. He told the police he was not afraid.”
Cooper also cautioned jurors not to be misdirected by suggestions: Ardmore police had not done their jobs properly; the ambulance was slow in responding; Forson had twisted the knife in Lockwood’s chest as he dying. (Walker had dropped the knife. It had not remained in the victim’s chest.)
Reviewing more of the evidence Cooper told the jury, “ … don’t take my word for it. Remember what he told police. He’s guilty. Remember how he told police he believes he’s above the law … that he would do it all over again,” Cooper concluded.
Following the verdict Cooper talked about the case and the conviction.
“On behalf of the District Attorney’s office I would like to extend my condolences once again to the family of Peyton Lockwood. Although there is nothing that can be done to fill the void that his death left in their lives, seeing the man who caused his death be held responsible was vital,” she said.
“I want to thank the Ardmore Police Department for their hard work in this case. From the moment 911 was called and throughout the history of the case, culminating yesterday when officers testified, they performed professionally and efficiently. The lay witnesses in this case presented some unique challenges for the District Attorney’s office and our staff, especially Judy Rogers and Marc Sanders, who were instrumental in obtaining justice for Peyton.
“And finally, last but certainly not least, I want to thank the jurors for their service and wisdom. The testimony they sat through was difficult and problematic and despite numerous attempts by the defense to distract them, they stayed the course and delivered a verdict that was fair and just.”
District Attorney Craig Ladd who was in the courtroom to hear the closing arguments and the jury’s decision, also commented.
“I want to express my sincere appreciation to the jury for their diligent service. Their verdict and recommended sentence was certainly supported by the law and evidence. Hopefully the verdict will bring some greater degree of peace to the victim’s family,” Ladd said, adding, “I also want to commend the Ardmore Police Department, in particular detectives John Johnson and Brice Woolly, for their thorough investigation and to First Assistant District Attorney Heather Cooper for her hard work and preparation in presenting this case to the jury. Her representation of the State in this matter was exemplary.”
The punishment range for first-degree manslaughter extends from four years to life. Those convicted are required to serve 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole. Walker will be required to serve almost 15 year years before he can be released.
Jury says Walker is guilty
By Marsha Miller