A Bedford County woman convicted of paying a friend of her daughter’s to kill her abusive husband has been denied a request for a new trial. A three-judge Tennessee Court of Appeals panel rejected Susan Jo Walls’ claim that attorney Christopher Westmoreland failed to adequately defend her case...
A Bedford County woman convicted of paying a friend of her daughter’s to kill her abusive husband has been denied a request for a new trial.
A three-judge Tennessee Court of Appeals panel rejected Susan Jo Walls’ claim that attorney Christopher Westmoreland failed to adequately defend her case.
Walls was convicted of first degree premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder and is serving a life sentence. Walls and Dawn Walls, one of her daughters, allegedly paid two Nashville men to kill Susan’s husband, Larry Walls, at his Unionville-area home.
Susan Walls’ claim was largely built around the jury’s late-night deliberations after a portion of the final day of her murder trial in May 2014 was delayed for several hours. Susan Walls’ blood pressure rose dangerously high and she was taken to a hospital for treatment.
During that delay, Criminal Court Judge Forest Durard and attorneys from both sides discussed the situation, eventually deciding to follow the path all had taken in previous trials and continue into the night.
The jury returned a guilty verdict shortly after 1 a.m. after being brought pizza around 11 p.m.
The court of appeals had ordered a new trial based on the delay in 2016, but the Tennessee Supreme Court overruled, saying there was no specific state law banning late-night court sessions.
Westmoreland said in last week’s appeal he considered the late-night deliberations “trial strategy,” and had explained to Walls jurors are more favorable to defendants in long deliberations.
Walls claimed Westmoreland failed to provide her case file, call witnesses she had requested, and didn’t mention abuse she said she suffered or formally object to late-night deliberations.
Westmoreland, who had been appointed by the court, said he didn’t receive a request for the case file until after the Supreme Court ruling, when it had grown so large that he gave it directly to another attorney who had taken over the case. He said several of her family members detailed much of the abuse, making the other witnesses unnecessary; and he approached the state numerous times but was never offered a sentence less than life and he was hopeful she could receive less time in a trial.
One of those witnesses would have testified of physical abuse, Walls’ current attorney Garrett Haynes said. Westmoreland said only Walls herself could have testified of sexual abuse,
The judges said no evidence was presented to show that the late-night deliberations or lack of testimony by the witness affected the verdict. A judge who denied the earlier appeal said because she had been part of the planning of Larry Walls’ violent murder and had not killed him herself, it was “doubtful” additional testimony about abuse would have made a difference.
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