Walls found guilty

Friday, May 9, 2014
Paramedics took Susan Walls to Heritage Medical Center Thursday afternoon after she suffered extremely high blood pressure during closing arguments of her murder trial. She is accused of criminal responsibility to commit first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder. (T-G Photo by Brian Mosely)

Early this morning a jury found Susan Walls guilty of criminal responsibility to commit first degree murder, and conspiracy to commit first degree murder in the death of her husband.

Paramedics wheeled Susan Walls out of court immediately after closing arguments capped off the fourth day of her murder/conspiracy trial Thursday.

Walls, charged with plotting the death of her husband, fell ill at the conclusion of state's evidence. Emergency workers said her blood pressure was "extremely high" and she was in danger of having a stroke.

Larry Walls Sr. was found dead on Aug. 8, 2012,. His daughter Dawn Walls and Sean Gearhardt are charged with first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder.

Another co-defendant, Jason Starrick, has begun a 51-year prison sentence after pleading guilty two weeks ago. A sentencing date has not been announced.

Before she fell ill, assistant district attorney Mike Randles said that Susan said she didn't have to personally have committed the murder itself, but hiring it done makes her responsible.

He recalled all the family members and witnesses who testified that Susan wanted her husband dead, including some that claimed she had found someone to do it.

Getting all the family members and grandchildren out of the house on the day of the murder was other evidence that Susan helped to plan the killing, Randles said.

Randles also said this case had more confessions than he could remember in any case he has tried.

"Walls may have not have been father of the year, but he didn't deserve this," Randles said.

Defense's view

Defense attorney Chris Westmoreland recalled the 911 call that Susan made when she found the body, noting she was crying.

He said no evidence was shown that she gave one penny toward the murder, nor was there any DNA evidence linking her to it.

Westmoreland also claimed she was not part of the murder plot, pointing out the many family members who were abused and wanted Larry Walls dead for years.

But no one had ever taken the conversations about murdering him seriously, the defense said.

He said the TBI called Susan and Dawn late at night under false pretense to interrogate them without counsel present. He told the jury there was no recording of their statements, saying neither one created the statements attributed to them.

Dawn was conspiring with someone -- but not Susan -- to kill Walls, Westmoreland said.


Dr. Thomas Deering, a medical examiner who contracts with the state and practices forensic pathology, was Thursday's first witness, explaining the autopsy results for the jury.

He detailed two types of injuries Walls suffered -- blunt force trauma to the head and 49 stab wounds to the head, neck and torso, including a long slash across his abdomen.

With so many wounds, Deering said it was hard to tell which stab wound caused damage to Walls' internal organs. Just about any of the wounds could have resulted in his death, he testified.

Some photos of Walls were excluded and not shown to the jury due to their extreme graphic nature.

Susan wept during most of this testimony.

Westmoreland asked about how much alcohol was in his system and about possible alcoholism.

Suspect's friend

Kristal McBride, a friend of Susan, testified she spoke to the defendant shortly after the murder, trying to help a friend.

But at some point, she had a talk with Susan, asking if she did it. Susan put her head in her hands and said she "yes," also speaking of the abuse she suffered, McBride testified.

"She said she kind of snapped and said she couldn't take it any more," McBride said, but was having problems remembering what was said afterwards.

McBride later went to the TBI, and according to her written statement, Susan had talked to Dawn, who knew people who could "take care" of the murder and that Dawn was pushing for the slaying.

But Susan did not think the crime would be so brutal, also saying she was to pay around $400. The TBI statement said it was Dawn that was to pay the money.

"They were supposed to kill him, not mutilate him," McBride quoted Susan saying.

During a later conversation, McBride testified that Susan said she did not regret the murder.

Westmoreland asked McBride to describe the victim, whom she called "evil." She did not witness the abuse herself, but did see the results, she said.

Dismissal sought

The defense moved to dismiss the case against Susan, saying that the "mountain of evidence" did not show she had anything to do with the plot, citing that many witnesses did not take the statements about killing Walls seriously, which had been voiced for years.

Westmoreland said it was Dawn that pushed for the contract murder, and that Susan did not participate in the conspiracy, and would not benefit from it.

Circuit Court Judge Forest Durard overruled the motion. Susan also chose not to exercise her right to testify in her trial.

Westmoreland called Alisha Stacy, another of Susan's daughters, back to the stand briefly and asked if her mother had anything to do with the murder about 24 hours after it occurred, which she said no, but under questioning from the state, she related that Susan admitted to her that she was involved.

"I didn't believe my mother at the time," when she said she was planning to have her husband killed before it occurred.

Tired, distant

Natasha Groves, an extended family member, testified about how Susan was acting the day after the murder, saying she was tired and distant.

She said Susan never slept, and the TBI asked Groves to bring Susan and Dawn in for an interview and was told by an agent if they were going to be allowed to leave, agents would call her or bring them home.

Prosecutors asked clarification from Groves if agents told her to leave, or said she could if she wanted, due to the late hours of the interviews. Agents later drove the pair home.

Melissa Walls, the oldest daughter of Susan, testified about the abuse she suffered from her father, but that Dawn had received the worst of it.

She said everyone in the family said they wished he was dead, but said no one talked about actually doing it.

According to her TBI statement, she told agents that her mother wished she could find someone to kill Walls.