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Demonstrators want Will County judge to stick with life sentence

Murder happened 30 years ago

Published: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 10:55 p.m. CST
Caption
(Brian Stanley – bstanley@shawmedia.com)
Dale Schutt (from left to right), Courtney Borello and Nina Grembowicz stand outside the Will County Courthouse on Wednesday to protest a new sentencing hearing for James Walker. Walker was sentenced to life in prison for a 1984 murder when he was 17 years old.

JOLIET – Demonstrators outside the Will County Courthouse on Wednesday called for James E. Walker to stay behind bars.

Inside the courthouse, Walker had a hearing on whether his life sentence for a murder committed 30 years ago should be reconsidered.

Walker was not at the hearing.

But about 15 of Walker’s family and supporters attended – and were matched by an equal number representing the victim, Charles Davis.

Outside the courthouse, friends of the Davis family passed petitions and carried signs saying Walker should stay behind bars.

“If my brother can’t get out of his coffin, [Walker] shouldn’t get out of his cell,” Ruth Seplak said.

Walker, now 48, was 17 on March 16, 1984, when he and Xavier D. Williams, then 16, called for a taxi. They told Davis, 29, they wanted to go to a basketball game in Joliet, but planned to rob him, according to reports. When Davis stopped in the 1200 block of Clark Street, Williams got out before Walker shot Davis in the head with a sawed-off shotgun he’d hidden under his coat.

Walker was sentenced the following year to life in prison without parole. In 2012, mandatory life sentences for juveniles were ruled unconstitutional.

“The problem with a mandatory sentence is it doesn’t take everything into account,” defense attorney Shobha Mahadev told Judge Robert Livas. “That’s what troubled the Supreme Court. Youth and its attendant features have some context.”

Assistant Will County State’s Attorney Colleen Griffin said Walker’s original sentence was not mandatory, but discretionary. Griffin told Livas if the motion for a new sentence is granted, the state plans to have retired Judge Herman Haase testify to support that.

Livas said he would make a decision Aug. 26 and will review the cases Griffin and Mahadev cited in their arguments.

Walker’s mother attended Wednesday’s proceedings, but declined to comment upon Mahadev’s advice.

Outside the courthouse, Courtney Borello, a friend of the Davis family, urged people walking by to “keep the streets safe” and support Walker’s original sentence. Borello said almost 400 people had signed her petition in person or another one online.

Dale Schutt, another Davis family supporter, held a sign urging Walker to “do [his] life sentence.”

“[The crime] happened a month before he turned 18,” Schutt said. “He knew the difference between right and wrong. You blow somebody’s head off with a sawed-off shotgun. That’s just straight up cold-blooded.”

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