Murder case moves forward
BY STACI WILSON
The attorney for a suspended Montrose cop accused of killing his estranged wife 29 years ago argued during a preliminary hearing Wednesday that no evidence of malice was presented to substantiate a murder charge in Lynda Walker’s death.
“It’s nothing but smoke and mirrors,” Paul Ackourey said of the prosecution’s case against Sgt. John Walker. “There’s nothing to link my client to a homicide.”
Prosecutor John Flannery Jr. of the state attorney general’s office cited Sgt. Walker’s marital difficulties, witnesses that placed Sgt. Walker at the residence at the time of the gunshot and the forensic pathologist’s examination of the body.
“There were two people at that trailer,” Flannery said. “One was the defendant, and one was deceased.”
After nearly two hours of testimony offered by four witnesses for the prosecution, Magisterial District Judge Jodi Cordner ordered Sgt. Walker, 53, Montrose, to trial in Susquehanna County Court.
Ackourey presented no witnesses at the hearing.
After the hearing, the victim’s brother, Lynn Conrad said, “I’m happy to see (the case) progressing.”
Conrad said his family had always believed Sgt. Walker was responsible for his sister’s death. Her death had been ruled a suicide in 1983 by John Conarton, now deceased, who was Susquehanna County’s coroner at the time.
On the stand, state Trooper Patrick Zirpoli offered testimony about the pistol used in the shooting and read the pathology report prepared after Lynda Walker’s body was exhumed and autopsied in June 2011.
In that report, Dr. Isidore Mihalakis, M.D., a forensic pathologist, listed the cause of death as homicide.
Trooper Greg Deck, a criminal investigator at the state police station in Gibson, said on the stand he reviewed his investigation into the death which began in 2009 when police began to take another look into the cold case.
Trooper Deck also went over the initial investigating officer’s report and Sgt. Walker’s statement to police in 1983.
At that time, according to the police report read into testimony, Sgt. Walker said he called his estranged wife to come to the couple’s mobile home where the two argued about their marriage and he left and drove to various locations in the New Milford and Hallstead area.
He also told police she threatened to kill herself – a threat he said he didn’t take seriously because she had made it before.
In the 1983 statement, Sgt. Walker told police he returned home and found his wife dead in their bed with a gun in her hand.
Photographs of Lynda Walker’s body also were entered into evidence by Mr. Flannery.
Susquehanna County District Attorney Jason Legg asked the attorney general’s office to take over the prosecution of the case. Sgt. Walker had served as a Susquehanna County Task Force detective under the supervision of the district attorney. He has been terminated from that position.
On the stand, Trooper Deck described the position of the body; the 45-caliber pistol case found under the bed pillows; and a streak of blood on a blanket that only became visible as the layers of the bedding were pulled away.
“It looked like the scene was staged,” Trooper Deck said.
Two others testified to seeing Sgt. Walker’s Ford Bronco at the home and hearing a gunshot, sometime between 5 and 5:30 p.m. the day of Lynda Walker’s death.
Nellie Curry said she lived near the Walker residence and drove by it each day. She also knew Lynda Walker because she had been friends with her father, Harold Conrad.
Curry said she and her husband drove by the home between 5 and 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 13, 1983, and noticed both Linda and John Walker’s vehicles parked there.
She also said that when she arrived at her home, less than a two-minute drive away, she heard a single gunshot. But Curry said, she didn’t learn of Lynda Walker’s death until she went to work the next morning.
But she said on the stand, she was positive she saw both cars and positive she heard a gunshot.
On cross-examination and referring to rifle deer hunting season, Mr. Ackourey asked, “Did you hear gunshots on a regular basis?”
“It was Sunday”. Curry said.
George Yaskowiak said he also heard a single gunshot that day that came from “down over the hill.” He testified that he had taken a load of debris to a dump, located up the hill from the Walker home at about 5 p.m. and had just finished unloading it after 10 to 15 minutes when he heard the shot.
On cross-examination, Yaskowiak said he had seen Sgt. Walker’s Bronco parked at the home throughout the day while he was making trips to the dump. He said that on his last trip, which occurred about dusk, he didn’t notice if it was still parked there.
When he heard the gunshot he said he ignored it and didn’t investigate. “It was dusk, I couldn’t see,” he said.
Trooper Zirpoli interviewed Sgt. Walker in March 2010, he said on the stand. Trooper Zirpoli said Sgt. Walker was asked to read the 1983 report. Trooper Zirpoli then asked him about his wife’s death.
“Did you ask him if he killed his wife?” Mr. Flannery asked.
“I did,” Trooper Zirpoli answered. “He said he wanted an attorney.”
But as Sgt. Walker was walking out of the police station, Trooper Zirpoli said Sgt. Walker turned to him and answered, “Just to answer your question, it’s no.”