Friday, August 10, 2012

Tyrone Walton

Tyrone Walton
It was Saturday, May 16, 1987. Even though the spring rains were beginning to ease up a bit, it was still a damp night in the City of Roses. The clerk on duty at the convenience store located in the 900 block of Southeast 39th Avenue had been busy all evening long, most cus­tomers coming in to buy beer, cigarettes and snacks. The clerk was tired, ready to go home as soon as his replacement arrived, but that, he knew, wouldn’t be for a while. Perhaps because of his fa­tigue, he paid little attention to yet an­other car’s headlights glistening on the wet blacktop as it pulled into the park­ing lot. Just another customer to deal with, or so he had thought.
If he hadn’t been so tired, he might also have noticed the odd-looking, saw­ed-off shotgun the man was carrying when he climbed out of the car. But the clerk hadn’t, and by the time he did see the weapon, the man was already inside the store. By then, he knew it was too late to reach for one of the alarms, so he stood perfectly still. The clerk had been robbed before and experience had taught him simply to play it cool. It just wasn’t worth getting blown away for the few dollars kept in the till.
His movement careful and deliberate, the clerk did as he was told and opened the cash register. He then allowed the robber to remove the cash; there wasn’t much, probably less than $100. The rob­ber quickly pocketed most of the money with one hand as held the shotgun on the clerk with the other. Without saying anything, the clerk noticed that the rob­ber had left a couple of the bills in a spe­cific location inside the cash drawer, right where the alarm triggers were con­cealed. How odd, the clerk thought, as he watched the robber leave. He had known exactly where the alarms were hidden. Either the robber had worked at one of the stores before, or he’d had a great deal of experience robbing them, the clerk reasoned. When he was certain that he was out of danger, the frightened clerk pressed the alarm.
When the police arrived, the clerk de­scribed the robber as a young black man, probably in his late 20s or early 30s. He told the officers the robber had brandished a shotgun, and wore a cap pulled down on his forehead in an ap­parent attempt, he guessed, to hide a no­ticeable scar. Apologetically, the clerk said he had been too frightened to try and get a description of the car or the di­rection in which its driver had fled. The cops understood and assured the clerk he had done the right thing. He was, af­ter all, lucky that he hadn’t been seri­ously injured or even killed during the holdup.
The foregoing robbery was an all too familiar repeat of a scene that was being played out in Portland, Oregon with in­creasing frequency during the past few years. The police, under fire from con­cerned citizens groups, were blaming such incidents on the growing scourge of drugs. Drugs, particularly cocaine and its powerful derivative, crack, have brought Portland’s crime rate to the fifth highest in the country. And according to crime experts, it’s getting worse every day.
On Monday, June 22, 1987, a little more than a month after the armed rob­bery of the 39th Street store, Richard Cooper, 45, manager of a store owned by a different company, became yet an­other crime statistic for the experts to analyze.
He opened for business at 6:00 a.m. just as he had done five, sometimes six, days a week since he’d gone to work there six months earlier. The store, lo­cated in the 2000 block of North Killingsworth Street, had been the target of 12 robberies since the beginning of the year, three times during one 10-day stretch in March. In one of, those cases, the same man held up the store twice in three days, the second time being brazen enough to tap the clerk on the shoulder and say, “Let’s do it again.- But Cooper tried not to let such a discouraging re­cord bother him; if it had, he hadn’t let it show much.
It had been a typical Monday morn­ing. Business had been somewhat brisk during the first two hours. He’d sold lots of fresh hot coffee to those late risers who preferred to drink their morning cup while driving to work and, of course, lots of cigarettes. Two of those customers, a team of garbage haulers, were still drinking their coffee while sit­ting in their truck in the store’s parking lot.
They saw the car with two people pull into the parking lot about 8:00 a.m., but paid little attention. A man got out of the passenger side of the car and walked quickly into the store.
A minute or so later, the sanitation men heard a loud noise, like an explo­sion, and then observed the man, carrying a shotgun, run out of the store. The man quickly climbed into the car which drove away from the scene at a high rate of speed. One of the garbage haulers, suspecting the worse, yelled to a passer­by to call the police.
When a team of officers arrived a few minutes later, they entered the store which seemed, at first glance, virtually undisturbed. However, they quickly found Richard Cooper lying on the floor behind the counter, a small patch of blood near his body. One look at the open and nearly empty till was all it took for them to know what the per­petrator’s motive had been.
When the officers checked the vic­tim’s vital signs, they found, much to their surprise, that Cooper was still alive. But the shotgun blast appeared to have been at close range and had struck him square in the chest. They couldn’t imagine him escaping injury to his heart. Paramedics, notified simul­taneously by emergency dispatchers anytime a shooting is suspected, were grim about Cooper’s prospects for sur­viving as they quickly whisked him off to Emanuel Hospital. However, despite frantic and diligent efforts by all the medical personnel involved, Richard Cooper died a short time later in the emergency room.
Detective Dave Ruby of the Portland Police Bureau’s Homicide Division was assigned to investigate the robbery-slaying. He interviewed the two garbage haulers, who described the gun-toting robber as a young black man in his late 20s or early 30s who wore a cap pulled down over his forehead. They said he fled the scene in a red or maroon late 1970s four-door Chrysler, driven by a second person. The bystanders couldn’t say if the driver was another man or a woman. The two witnesses said the car’s paint was either dirty or faded, but added that there was a white sticker on the rear bumper.
Unfortunately, they didn’t get the license number because it had all happened too fast. By the time they realized what had occurred, the car was too far away for them to see the plates. They weren’t sure if they could recognize the suspect again, but they agreed to make an attempt at identifica­tion if anyone was apprehended.
The police quickly issued an all-­points-bulletin for the car and its occu­pants, initially believed to have been two men. However, those associated with the case doubted that such a sketchy description would produce any valuable leads. Lawmen knew they would just have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, the store was closed to the public so crime scene personnel could process it in the usual manner. Criminalists worked there throughout the day but, aside from the victim’s blood and powder residue from the blast, there was not much in the way of physical evidence. However, the inves­tigators noted that certain bills were left behind in the cash register, in the precise location from where the alarm would have been triggered if the bills had been removed.
During an interview with a relative of the victim, Detective Ruby learned that Richard Cooper was a veteran who had served honorably in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He was also a divorced father of four sons, whose ages ranged be­tween 17 and 21. The tearful relative said it was hard to understand, much less accept, why anyone would have wanted to kill Cooper, even during a holdup. The relative said Cooper had re­cently talked about the possibility of an armed robbery, but that still had not kept him from his daily routine of opening the store at 6:00 p.m.
“We’re numb,” said the close rela­tive. “He’d always say there was noth­ing in the store worth getting killed over. He said they could carry out the cash register if they wanted to…you al­ways figure it’s going to happen to the other guy’s family, not your own.”
Just prior to the autopsy on Cooper’s body, investigators photographed it thoroughly, taking several scaled photos of the wound. Such pictures, they knew, might prove useful later during a fire­arms examination where the diameter of the victim’s wound might play an im­portant role in determining the distance between the shooter and the victim as well as the gauge of shotgun used. But first, of course, probers knew they would have to locate the suspected mur­der weapon.
Following the autopsy, Dr. Larry Lewman, state medical examiner, made the official determination that the victim had died as a result of a single shotgun blast to his chest that had penetrated and damaged the heart. Lewman removed as much shot, or pellets of lead, from the wound as possible, knowing that the number of pellets could also aid the de­tectives in determining the size of the shotgun used.
While going over the bureau’s rob­bery statistics and crime reports a cou­ple of days later, Detective Ruby noted that the North Killingsworth robbery was not only similar to the one that oc­curred on May 16th, it was also very similar to one that had occurred earlier on the morning of June 22nd, at a store in the 1700 block of Northeast 28th Av­enue, barely two hours before Richard Cooper was killed.
When Ruby interviewed Mitch Cobb, 30, the clerk at the Northeast 28th Ave­nue store, he learned that the robber matched the description of the man sus­pected of robbing and killing Richard Cooper. Cobb told the detective that his store had a broken front door lock, and that the door buzzer and security camera were often out of order, sometimes mak­ing it difficult to take notice of everyone who entered. He said that during the robbery of his store early that morning, around six o’clock, the robber came in and pointed a shotgun in his face while he was transferring money from the cash register to the safe. Cobb said it was the second time he’d been robbed in less than two weeks.
“I missed a couple days’ work after (Cooper was killed),” Cobb later told reporters. “I didn’t think I could come back. I’m still not comfortable here.” He added that he would feel better about his job if more than one employee worked each shift and if the stores’ owners would redesign them to enable the clerks to see what customers and po­tential robbers were doing at any given moment.
A representative of local 555 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents most store workers in the Pacific Northwest, agreed with Mitch Cobb’s assessment and suggestions. He also expressed out­rage over Richard Cooper’s death.
“Working (one of these stores) is a violent place to work,” said the union representative.
The store where Richard Cooper worked was equipped with an alarm system and a camera to photograph robbery and/or shoplifting suspects, said a company spokesman.
“There’s always a tendency for peo­ple to blame someone or something in a case like this,” he said. “We have twen­ty-four stores in Seattle and we’ve had eight robberies in the past two-and­-a-half years…in the Portland area last year alone we had about one hundred. The difference is mind-boggling. It’s a very good question why there’s a differ­ence. I think it’s because the police up there (in Seattle) have the tools. There’s adequate jail space and the court system doesn’t allow some of these people to walk around free…the business is not to blame. The store (where Cooper was killed) is well-lit, it’s on a highly visible corner and it happened at eight in the morning. Our people are trained to not resist and to cooperate (with robbers) one hundred percent…a shooting in our company is extremely rare. The last one was about five years ago.”
Lieutenant Al Dean, acting com­mander of the Portland Police Bureau’s Detective Division, agreed with the spokesman’s assessment but empha­sized that drugs were the real problem, being responsible for nearly every store robbery in Portland.
“The stores are spread throughout the city and when someone needs money, they’re available,” said Dean.
According to Henry Groepper, Port­land Police Bureau spokesman, there were 416 store robberies in Portland during 1987 in which $37,472 was taken, averaging $90 per robbery.
“There’s not that much money in the till and the clerk does not have a key to the safe,” said Groepper. “(The) stores are hit because either the robber doesn’t believe that, or they are desperate enough that they need to get whatever money they can.” The loot usually buys drugs, particularly crack.
Lacking any significant leads on the robbery-slaying, Detective Dave Ruby, joined by colleagues William S. Law and Thomas W. Nelson, appealed to the public for help through Multnomah County’s Crime Stoppers program. A $1,000 reward was offered by Crime Stoppers for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator, backed by an additional $10,000 reward posted by the owners of the store where Richard Cooper worked.
Unfortunately, there were no immedi­ate takers for the reward money. A few leads did trickle in, but there was noth­ing significant enough to allow the pro­bers to identify and begin focusing on a prime suspect. And even though sleuths put out a description of the car seen speeding away from the crime scene, without a plate number it was like look­ing for a needle in a haystack. There were just too many cars of that make and color in Portland.
Detectives believed Cooper’s murder was drug-related. For this reason, the probers enlisted the help of drug infor­mants who were known to frequent the numerous crack houses in Portland. Sleuths knew that these dealers would eagerly turn in a dealer, killer, even a friend, if the price was right.
Unfortunately, that plan of action didn’t pan out for the detectives. With one-tenth of Portland’s population users of drugs of some sort, there were just too many possibilities. The chances of even an informant learning important information about a murder case was slim under the best of conditions, and under the circumstances surrounding the case such a task seemed nearly in­surmountable. The mere numbers they were dealing with dictated that.
As the days quickly turned into weeks, Detectives Ruby, Law and Nelson began to think they had lost this one. They all knew that Portland’s 32nd homicide of the year could very well go into the division’s unsolved drawer if something didn’t break soon. The trail had long become cold in Cooper’s case, and there were already several new kill­ings that had to be investigated. But even though clearing the case looked more and more unlikely, lawmen held out hope that they’d eventually get lucky. The killer might, after all, contin­ue robbing stores. And if he did, there was always the possibility that he could slip up, sleuths reasoned.
During the first week in August, near­ly six weeks after Richard Cooper’s vio­lent murder, the unexpected occurred. According to Police Bureau records, a man called the Homicide Division and told detectives that his girlfriend had been a participant in the robbery-slay­ing. When a detective pressed him for a name, he identified his girlfriend as Sara Bates.
The detectives soon learned that Bates was a known drug addict. They traced her to an address in Northeast Portland. When they finally talked to her about her ex-boyfriend’s allegations, she told them that it was he who had committed the robbery and the shooting. Bates identified her ex-boyfriend as 29­-year-old Tyrone Earl Walton. She told the detectives they could find him at an address in the 5100 block of Northeast Mallory Avenue. Bates readily admitted that she drove Walton to and from the store, but she insisted that she had wait­ed outside in a rental car while Walton committed the dirty work.
The investigators all agreed that Bates’ version of what had taken place the morning Cooper was shot was con­sistent with details obtained from the two garbage haulers who had been drinking coffee in the store’s parking lot. They had seen the suspect arrive in a car driven by a second person, go into the store alone, and had observed him leave hurriedly after they heard the gun­fire, with the other person still behind the wheel.
Detectives Law and Nelson promptly went to Tyrone Walton’s Mallory Ave­nue address on Friday, August 7th, but he wasn’t there. Ready to leave, one of the sleuths spotted a man matching Wal­ton’s description outside a nearby house, also in the 5100 block of North­east Mallory Avenue. The detectives quickly converged on the man and iden­tified him as Tyrone Walton. They ar­rested him at 11:45 a.m. for suspicion of robbery and murder in connection with the death of Richard Cooper.
After detectives served a search war­rant at Walton’s residence, they an­nounced that additional evidence was obtained. Although they didn’t locate the suspected murder weapon, the sleuths indicated that the evidence they found was significant. They declined, however, to reveal the type or nature of what that evidence was.
Tyrone Walton was taken to the downtown Justice Center Jail, where he was accused of aggravated murder and first-degree robbery. He was held with­out bail. Within hours of his arrest, the investigators rounded up their primary witnesses, the two garbage haulers. They brought them in to view a lineup and attempt to make an identification. However, much to the detectives’ dis­may, the bystanders were unable to pos­itively say that Tyrone Walton was the man seen fleeing the store following the shooting.
Meanwhile, the detectives announced they had received yet another tip related to the Cooper case. According to re­ports, a person, whom the detectives would not identify, provided informa­tion that led the lawmen to a large hedge at Northeast Killingsworth Street at Garfield Avenue. After a careful search, they recovered a sawed-off shotgun with an unusual-looking barrel. Law­men believed it was the same shotgun used in Cooper’s murder.
During the firearms investigation on the suspect weapon, it was pointed out that shotgun bores are measured in gauges, as opposed to caliber, with the smaller the gauge number the larger the diameter of the bore. A 12-gauge shot­gun has a larger diameter bore than that of a 20-gauge. That information helped the lawmen positively determine that the suspected murder weapon was a 12- gauge.
It was also pointed out that the charge of shot, when fired at close range, makes a much larger wound in a per­son’s body than it would if it had been fired at a longer distance, simply be­cause the charge of shot has not yet had time to disperse before striking its tar­get. By firing comparison shots with the suspect weapon at heavy poster board or blotting paper, the investigators could take the scaled photographs made of the victim’s wound prior to autopsy and compare then with the test shots, en­abling them to arrive at an estimate of the distance between the victim and sus­pect when the victim was killed. Such a detail could prove useful in determining the degree of the suspect’s intent.
Tyrone Walton was indicted by a Multnomah County grand jury on charges of two counts of aggravated murder, felony murder and first-degree robbery. One of the aggravated murder, counts accused Walton of intentionally killing Richard Cooper during the course of a robbery. The second aggra­vated murder count accused him of in­tentionally killing Cooper to conceal the perpetrator’s identity. At his arraign­ment, Walton pleaded innocent to all counts. A conviction on either aggra­vated murder count could result in a death sentence.
Since the detectives knew they weren’t about to get any additional in­formation out of Walton, they turned to his ex-girlfriend, Sara Bates. Facing charges of being an accomplice to the crime, Bates struck a deal and agreed to testify against Walton under a grant of immunity from prosecution.
After several delays, Tyrone Walton’s trial finally got under way on Tuesday, March 1, 1988, in the courtroom of Multnomah County Circuit Judge Ka­thleen B. Nachtigal. He was represented by court-appointed lawyer David Deg­ner.
In his opening statements to the jury, Chief Deputy District Attorney John C. Bradley told jurors that the state did not have any witnesses to the shooting. ‘There was no one inside the store except the victim and the killer. However, he said, the state would offer testimony from Walton’s ex-girlfriend who had waited in a rented car outside the store on the morning of the shooting. Bradley said Sara Bates’ statements, as well as numerous other pieces of circumstantial evidence, would place Tyrone Walton inside the store, armed with a sawed-off shotgun with an unusual barrel.
“The motive here is drugs,” said D.A. Bradley, adding that Walton com­mitted the robbery-slaying to obtain money to buy cocaine. “That’s why we are here today.” Bradley told jurors that Walton’s actions during the June 22nd robbery were similar to those in a May 16th robbery at another store on the oth­er side of the city. Bradley also de­scribed how Walton, in both instances, wore a cap to conceal a scar on his fore­head, used an unusual sawed-off shot­gun and left currency behind in the cash register to avoid setting off the alarms. Walton knew, Bradley contended, “that’s where the alarms are triggered from.- The robbery in which Cooper was killed, he said, netted only $79. Bradley also said he would place Sara Bates on the witness stand and she would testify that Walton told her that he had shot Cooper.
“(The defendant) didn’t kill Mr. Coo­per,” argued Defense Attorney Deg­ner. “It’s that simple.” Degner charged that two of the state’s key witnesses suf­fer mental difficulties in which they “fade in and out of reality.- Maintain­ing that Sara Bates was a candidate for the $10,000 reward offered by the com­pany for which Cooper worked, Deg­ner intimated that Bates would “say or do anything to get drugs.” Degner con­tended that by the end of the trial, the jury would have many doubts about the state’s case against Walton.
Unable to provide eyewitness testi­mony to the actual shooting, prosecutors presented a string of circumstantial evi­dence at the trial which linked Walton to the crime, including Sara Bates’ testi­mony.
Bates, responding to the prosecutor’s questions, described how she drove Walton to the North Killingsworth Street store on the morning of June 22, 1987 so he could rob it for money to buy drugs. She had waited in the car while Walton entered the store with his sawed-off shotgun. Moments later she heard a shot, she said, and when Walton returned to the car she asked him what had happened.
“I had to do it,” she said Walton had told her, “because he (the victim) was going for an alarm.
Degner, in an attempt to refute her testimony, pointed out that Bates had also said that Walton told her the shoot­ing was an accident. He also again brought up her willingness to sell out her ex-boyfriend for the reward money so she could use it to buy drugs.
But the prosecution quickly quelled that theory by noting that Bates would not receive any of the reward as part of her agreement with the state. Instead, two other people who provided infor­mation would split the money.
Prosecutor Bradley also placed a rela­tive of Richard Cooper’s on the witness stand. He testified that Cooper wasn’t the type to risk his life for anything in the store, let alone the few dollars kept in the cash till.
At another point in the trial, Prosecu­tor Bradley outlined Tyrone Walton’s extensive criminal record. Describing the defendant as “a heartless man who doesn’t care,” Bradley told the jurors that Walton had been convicted of three crimes, had served time at the MacLaren School for Boys as well as in the state prison system. Since 1972, said Bradley, Walton had committed several violent acts, some of them as a juvenile.
It took the jurors about six hours of deliberations before they announced they were ready with their verdict. They convicted Walton on both counts of ag­gravated murder as well as armed rob­bery for the murder of Richard Cooper. The same jury must now be required to de­cide Walton’s fate.
During the penalty phase of Walton’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Gregory Horner, co-prosecutor in the case, told jurors that the defendant was a danger­ous man who should be sentenced to death.
“The best indication of who he’ll be in the future is who he was in the past.” said Horner. “Victim after victim after victim will be here to testify to this man’s violent nature…by the end (of the trial), you’ll know this man…preys upon victims that are defenseless, that he shows no propensity for reformation. And, in fact, you’ll see a pattern of esca­lating violence that culminated in the death of Richard Cooper.
Just as he’d promised, Horner brought in witness after witness. Each one testified that he had been victimized by Walton at one time or another in crimes of burglary, robbery and assault. It was a pattern that began after Walton got involved with drugs at age 12 or 13, said witnesses.
However, prior to becoming involved with drugs, “he was a very nice kid and a talented athlete,” said his attorney. “There is a Mr. Walton without drugs,” he added, looking at the defendant “and that person can be a member of our so­ciety.” Admitting that Walton had a se­vere drug problem, Degner argued against imposition of the death penalty by insisting that Walton could be reha­bilitated. Degner also presented an ex­pert witness who testified that it was impossible to predict a person’s future potential for being a danger, one of three issues jurors must answer yes to in order to impose the death penalty. The other two issues were whether a defendant’s actions were deliberate and whether his actions were reasonable response to any provocation by the victim.
Near the end of the penalty phase, Ty­rone Walton took the stand and testified in his own defense. He denied that he shot Richard Cooper and told the jury that the trial had seemed “one-sided” to him. However, he told the panel of 12 that he didn’t want to die.
“I want to see tomorrow, if possible. I never thought it would go this far,” said Walton.
During his lawyer’s closing argu­ments, when Degner began discussing Walton’s behavior at the store where Cooper was shot, Walton became angry and disrupted the proceeding. He objected to Degner’s statements and told Judge Kathleen Nachtigal that he prefer­red to return to jail rather than remain in the courtroom and hear the end of the case. The judge complied with Walton’s wishes.
During his lawyer’s closing argu­ments, when Degner began discussing Walton’s behavior at the store where Cooper was shot, Walton became angry and disrupted the proceeding. He objected to Degner’s statements and told Judge Kathleen Nachtigal that he prefer­red to return to jail rather than remain in the courtroom and hear the end of the case. The judge complied with Walton’s wishes.
Allowing time for lunch and dinner, the jury deliberated about nine hours be­fore returning with their verdict. When Walton was brought back into the court­room, Judge Nachtigal announced that the jury had rejected a life sentence and had instead unanimously opted for the death penalty.
Angered and upset over the verdict, Defense Attorney Degner said it was unfair for Walton to be sentenced to death while his ex-girlfriend walked af­ter being granted immunity from pros­ecution in return for her testimony against Walton.
“Without (Sara Bates),” countered Prosecutor Bradley, “we never could have tied this guy to anything. If she could have been prosecuted for murder, she would have been.”
On Monday, March 21, 1988, in a proceeding that took little more than one minute, Judge Kathleen Nachtigal formally sentenced Tyrone Walton to death by lethal injection for the murder of Richard Cooper. Walton became the 10th person in Oregon sentenced to die since voters restored the death penalty five years ago.
Walton was subsequently prosecuted for the May 16, 1987 store robbery in Portland in a trial which he chose not to attend. On Wednesday, November 23, 1988, a jury found him guilty of armed robbery in connection with that holdup. Judge Kimberly C. Frankel sentenced him to 20 years for the conviction.
Bradley said he wanted to make sure Walton remains in prison as long as pos­sible in case his death sentence was set aside for some reason. “This was a very serious robbery,” said the prosecutor. “He should be held accountable.”
On appeal, Walton’s death sentences were thrown out and he was re-sentenced to two consecutive terms of 30 years without parole.
Editor’s Note:
Sara Bates and Mitch Cobb are not the real names of the persons so named in the foregoing story. Fictitious names have been used because there is no rea­son for public interest in the identities of these persons.

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