A Sedgwick County judge will decide this month whether a defendant’s 1989 murder of a Lawrence woman can be brought up at his trial in the death of a Wichita woman in 2011.
Tyrone Walker, 47, is set to stand trial for first-degree murder in the strangulation death of Janis Sanders, 44, whose unclothed body was found June 4, 2011, between an abandoned house and a small business in the 1100 block of South Washington. An autopsy showed she had been strangled with a shoelace.
At the time of Sanders’ death, Walker was on parole for the murder of Tamara Baker, 25, who was reported missing on Oct. 31, 1989, and whose body was found six months later in a wooded area on the outskirts of Lawrence. Walker pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in that case and was sentenced to 12 years to life in prison. He was paroled to Wichita in February 2011, about 31/2 months before Sanders’ death.
“The murders are sufficiently similar to raise a reasonable inference the defendant committed both offenses,” Assistant Sedgwick County District Attorney Andrea Nelson wrote in a prosecution motion asking a judge to allow Sanders’ jury to hear about the first crime.
“Both women were young with known crack cocaine habits. Both women were with the defendant the night before they were murdered. Both women died by means of manual strangulation. Both bodies were found in wooded or grassy areas.
“These facts sufficiently show the manner in which the offenses were committed are reasonably similar to raise the inference that the same person committed both offenses.”
Under Kansas law, evidence of a person’s prior crimes or civil wrongs is normally inadmissible. But the law makes exceptions, one of which can occur when the evidence is “relevant to prove some other material fact, including motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence of mistake or accident.”
“In this case, the issues of motive and identity will be central issues at trial,” Nelson wrote in her motion. “The fact that the defendant has been previously convicted for murdering a woman by strangulation certainly has a tendency to prove a material fact. There is a logical connection between this asserted fact and the results that the state intends to establish.”
District Judge Joseph Bribiesca is scheduled to hear arguments on the motion on March 20, and Walker’s jury trial is scheduled to begin March 25.
Walker’s lawyer, Steve Mank, did not return a phone message left at his office on Friday.
On the night of her death in 1989, Nelson’s motion says, Baker was smoking crack cocaine at Walker’s home with a group of people that included Walker and his girlfriend. At one point, the motion said, Walker and Baker left in Walker’s car. They stopped so they could “fool around.”
“At some point the victim stopped, refused to continue ‘fooling around’ and threatened to extort the defendant by telling his girlfriend about his infidelity,” the motion said. “The victim requested money in exchange for her silence. The defendant told (police) that he ‘lost it’ and strangled the victim with his bare hands.”
The motion said Walker and his girlfriend went to New York shortly after the murder.
Walker was arrested in 1992 after a New York City detective went to a homeless shelter and offered $10 to anyone who would appear in a lineup. News accounts at the time said Walker volunteered for the lineup and was arrested after a detective recognized him from a photograph that had been sent by Lawrence police.
Back in Kansas, Walker was charged with first-degree murder, pleaded to a reduced charge of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 12 years to life in prison. He was paroled to Missouri in 2006 but was returned to prison in 2010 on a parole violation.
The Kansas Parole Board approved Walker’s second parole after a Nov. 16, 2010, hearing at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility on the condition that he enter and successfully complete a structured-living program. He was released to Sedgwick County on Feb. 18, 2011, and was listed by the Kansas Department of Corrections as an absconder on June 3, the day before Sanders’ death.
A warrant for his arrest was issued on June 17, 2011, and he was arrested at a downtown Wichita hotel on a parole violation that day. Although he was a suspect in the Sanders’ homicide, he was booked on a parole violation. He was finally charged with Sanders’ murder on Oct. 4, 2011.
Wichita police said Sanders had no ties to the house or the business where her body was found. Much of her clothing and personal belongings was found about a half-block away, police said. Sanders had been living in north Wichita, but was evicted about 10 days before her death. Police said she was often seen on the south side of town after the eviction.
In her motion, Nelson said that on the night before Sanders’ body was found, Walker was riding in a car with two friends near Lincoln and Pattie when he saw Sanders walking down the street. He asked the driver to stop, the motion said, then jumped out and ran to her.
The motion said physical evidence at the crime scene also implicated Walker.
“DNA testing later revealed this defendant’s DNA to be on the shoelace, at the ends, where he would have placed his hands as he strangled the victim with it,” the motion said. “The defendant’s DNA also was found under victim’s fingernails and on a knife that was found hear her body.”
Walker is being held in the Sedgwick County Jail on $250,000 bond.