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Jury deadlocks in woman’s strangulation death

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, March 29, 2013, at 7:18 p.m.

A mistrial was declared Friday in the trial of a Wichita man accused of strangling a Wichita woman in 2011 while he was on parole for murdering a woman in Lawrence more than two decades earlier.

A Sedgwick County jury deliberated for nearly a full day before announcing late Friday afternoon that they were hopelessly deadlocked in their deliberations. The jury foreman told District Judge Joseph Bribiesca that jurors were split 11-1 in favor of convicting Tyrone Walker of first-degree murder. The foreman said the lone holdout would not change his vote with further deliberations.

Walker, 47, was charged in the death of Janis Sanders, 44, whose nude body was found between an abandoned house and a small business in the 1100 block of South Washington on June 4, 2011. During the trial, jurors heard from two witnesses who said that on the day Sanders disappeared, they were riding with Walker in a car on East Lincoln when Walker saw Sanders walking with another woman and asked the driver to stop. Both witnesses said Walker was last seen heading in Sanders’ direction.

Jurors also heard that Walker’s DNA was found on the shoelace that was used to strangle Sanders and on scrapings taken from under Sanders’ fingernails.

Some of the most detailed evidence came from an El Dorado Correctional Facility inmate, Thomas L. Wilson, who told a Wichita police detective that Walker described how he killed Sanders while both inmates were being held in the Sedgwick County Jail.

Detective Tim Relph said Wilson told him that after Sanders shunned Walker’s sexual advances, the two shared a $20 rock of crack cocaine in a vacant house.

“After they finished the cocaine, he propositioned her again,” Relph said. “He got angry, and he pinned her down. He had a kitchen knife but he did not stab her. He did not want to get blood all over himself. He decided to choke her with two shoelaces to avoid leaving fingerprints on the body.”

Relph said Wilson told him that Walker described sticking a kitchen knife into the ground next to Sanders’ body — a detail that only the killer would have known.

“We didn’t know for sure that the knife was part of the crime scene,” Relph said. “It certainly looked like it.”

Relph said Wilson had hoped his cooperation would lead to a reduction in his sentence for armed robbery. Relph said it didn’t.

Before beginning their deliberations, jurors were told that Walker was charged in Douglas County with first-degree murder and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder.

That charge involved 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 of Lawrence. Walker was sentenced to 12 years to life in prison on that charge and was paroled to Wichita in February 2011.

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.”

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com.

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