In a unanimous decision, the court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Artemus Rick Walker was incompetent due to mental illness. Walker was convicted in the Macon County slaying of Lynwood Ray Gresham.
“We are very grateful that the Georgia Supreme Court acknowledged what the evidence in this case unequivocally shows: that Mr. Walker has suffered from long-standing mental illness which rendered him incompetent to stand trial,” Walker’s lawyer, Brian Kammer, said.
A spokeswoman for the state attorney general declined to comment.
Walker owned a service station next door to the bank where Gresham was vice president. Walker hired another man, Gary Lee Griffin to work at his service station a few days before the killing and asked him to help him rob and kill a rich man, prosecutors said at trial.
Walker gave Griffin a knife and stun gun before the two men biked to Gresham’s house, prosecutors said. When Walker began to struggle with Gresham during a conversation in the front yard, Walker told Griffin to use the stun gun on Gresham, but Griffin refused, prosecutors said. Griffin also refused to stab Gresham with the knife.
Griffin gave the knife to Walker, who stabbed Gresham 12 times in the chest and back, prosecutors said. He then dragged the still-living Gresham to the side of the house and hid him in some bushes.Walker told Griffin he had “one more to kill” and used Gresham’s keys to try to unlock the front door, but Gresham’s wife had locked a chain lock and foot lock on the door and had called police. Her daughter shouted to Walker that she had a gun.
Walker and Griffin rode away on their bikes. Griffin was arrested after crashing his bike, and Walker was arrested a few hours later in nearby woods.
A jury in 2002 convicted Walker of malice murder, felony murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault, attempted burglary and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and he was sentenced to death plus a life term and 35 years in prison. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld his conviction on appeal in 2007.
A lawyer for Walker in 2009 filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which allows prisoners to challenge their convictions on constitutional grounds. The habeas court ruled in Walker’s favor, finding that his constitutional rights were violated because he was incompetent during his trial. It also found Walker’s constitutional right to effective counsel was violated because his lawyers didn’t present evidence of his mental illness.
Generally, a claim of incompetence cannot be brought up in habeas proceedings unless it has been brought up at trial. But the habeas court found enough evidence that his lawyers’ performance was lacking and the outcome of the trial would likely have been different if they had not failed him.
Testimony and evidence before the habeas judge demonstrated Walker’s trial attorneys were concerned about his mental health but abandoned their efforts to have him evaluated when Walker refused to be examined, according to court documents.
A number of witnesses during the habeas proceedings testified Walker had been a bright and dynamic young man but began to exhibit increasingly psychotic behavior in his late teens.
Based on the evidence presented, the high court opinion says it finds no error in the habeas court’s ruling that it is likely Walker would have been found incompetent to stand trial if a psychologist had testified.
Walker’s conviction and sentence have been tossed out, but the charges against him still stand. The state may retry Walker, but only if he’s found to be competent at the time, the high court opinion says.