'Sexual predator' gets 20 years - Houston Chronicle
Staff Sgt. Luis A. Walker, called a “sexual predator” by Air Force prosecutors, was given 20 years in prison Saturday after he and family members tearfully begged for mercy.
Prosecutors had called on the jury, which convicted him Friday night on seven charges and 28 specifications of misconduct, to give him 40 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
Walker faced a maximum of life without the possibility of parole. He'll instead be eligible for release after serving six years.
“Members, I stand before you a convicted man. I know you have to punish me for the crimes I have committed,” he said in a statement, standing before the jury.
“The only thing I ask you for is that you consider my family,” he added, weeping.
Stoic even when the jury president pronounced him guilty of a long list of crimes, Walker was flanked by family that included his two sons, ages 4 and 7.
His wife, sister and stepfather had just made their own emotional pleas for leniency after five of his victims told jurors tearful tales of how their encounters with Walker had broken their lives.
The Air Force charged Walker with having illicit relationships with 10 women, all of them in basic training and some in the units that he oversaw. They recounted the power he and other instructors in an often-understaffed basic training corps wielded over them.
They initially saw Walker as a friend and mentor, the rare instructor who wasn't always screaming at them. But things changed when he took the women, some 17 and 18 years old, behind closed doors and into empty “ghost” dorms.
There, Walker hugged, kissed and groped the women. Initially stunned, they shrugged off those passes only to later find that Walker wanted sex.
Several said they've lost trust in men since graduating from basic training and moving on to new assignments.
Two of the women told jurors they have struggled to maintain relationships as they had become emotionally brittle, while one, identified as Airman 9, recalled the excitement she felt in joining the Air Force and hopes she had to gain pride in herself.
“I don't enjoy the military much any more. I don't want to be in it,” she said.
“It's affected my relationship with my fiancée. We're no longer together,” she added, after telling the panel of six men and one woman that she suffers anxiety attacks. “Every time I'm laughing or smiling, I feel fake. I feel empty.”
Before the first woman took the stand, the military judge, Col. Wesley Moore, reduced the number of allegations that Walker faced to six charges and 20 specifications, citing duplication in accusations lodged by the Air Force. The punishment range stayed the same, and San Antonio defense attorney Joseph Esparza said the verdict raised the possibility that his client would get a stiffer sentence.
“You're always fearful of more, but you're always hopeful for your client,” he said.
Prosecutors didn't ask for the harshest sentence. Instead, Capt. Robert Collins called on jurors to hand Walker 40 years, telling them that ought to send a message.
“He came here and asked you to think of his family,” Collins said. “That should have been who he thought about, his family. That's what should have woken him up.”
Arguing for the defense, Capt. Colin Eichenberger reminded jurors that Walker is 26, born to a single mother and raised by grandparents in a tough part of Brooklyn, “a young man who came up from nothing” to join the Air Force — a long-held dream.
Forty years “would extinguish a young life,” he said. Arguing for a lighter sentence, Eichenberger said sexual offender programs run two years followed by weekly checks, and he asked the jurors to imagine whether Walker would be rehabilitated as he grew old in prison.
As he sketched that scenario, Walker's stepfather, Herbert O'Connor of Brooklyn, broke out in heavy sobs, rose from his seat and stumbled out of the cramped gallery.
Sitting with his defense team, Walker betrayed no emotion while his wife, Yeimi, sat dejected behind him.
Earlier, she had told the court that Walker was a good father to their two children and asked the jury to think of her family.
“He's all (we) have,” Yeimi Walker said.
But Collins pressed for a long prison sentence, saying Walker held a grave responsibility for training the women and failed it in a bid to satisfy his own sexual desires.
The victims sat in a conference room watching the jury's decision on closed-circuit television, and later waited in vain to see Walker led from the courthouse manacled and escorted to a sedan by armed Air Force police. It wasn't clear what they thought of the verdict, but they made clear how profoundly he had transformed their lives.
“I can't be in a room with a male by myself,” Airman 10 said.
“It's affected my relationship with my dad, it's affected my relationship with my husband, it's affected my relationship with people I haven't met yet.” firstname.lastname@example.org