James Dean Walker

Pulaski County, Arkansas
Date of Alleged Crime:  April 16, 1963

James Dean Walker was convicted of murdering Police Officer Jerrell Vaughn of North Little Rock.  Walker and a companion, Russell Kumpe, were at a Little Rock nightclub with two women, one of whom was Linda Ford.  Following an altercation at the club in which another patron was shot, Kumpe, Walker, and Ford left in Kumpe's Oldsmobile.  Kumpe drove, while Walker sat in the passenger seat, with Ford sitting in the center.  Police Officer Gene Barentine pursued and stopped the car and parked his vehicle behind it.  Officer Vaughan arrived on the scene almost immediately thereafter, as did two cabdrivers.

Barentine ordered Kumpe out of the car and had him spread eagle on the hood of his police car.  According to Kumpe, while he was spread eagle, Vaughn approached the passenger side of the Oldsmobile.  Kumpe said he warned Vaughan that Walker had a gun to which Vaughn reportedly replied, “that he [Vaughn] had a gun and he'd get the S.O.B.”  According to Walker, Vaughn asked him to get out, and if he had a gun, to give it to him.  Walker said he reached over, picked his gun up with his thumb and forefinger, and swung around to open the door.  However, when Walker opened the door, the dome light came on and Vaughn screamed, “He's got a gun.” Vaughn started shooting through the window, and shot Walker five times. Walker slumped out onto the ground with his revolver still in his hand beneath him.

On hearing the shots, Barrentine left Kumpe and started firing wildly, putting shots in the back of the trunk and blowing out the back window.  Vaughn died after being shot through the heart.  Barentine's gun was subsequently confiscated, but by the time of the confiscation, he had sawed the barrel off of it, saying he'd always wanted a snub nose.  The missing barrel preventing it from being matched to the fatal bullet.

Walker could not have killed Vaughn as his revolver was found beneath him, fully loaded.  However, the police version of the shooting was that another gun was found in the back of the car.  It was a model of which the North Little Rock Police Department had dozens, and it had its serial number filed off.  The gun had six expended cartridges in it.  The initial story was that Walker had fired this gun six times with his left hand, hitting Vaughn once through the heart.  Walker then supposedly threw this gun into the back of the car, perhaps as he fell with the unfired revolver.  Arkansas Democrat reporter Mike Masterson called this version preposterous.

Walker was tried twice and even at his second trial, his lawyer failed to notice that two different officers testified to bringing the fatal bullet back from the crime lab.  This duality raised suspicions that there were two submitted bullets, one of which was perhaps fired from the presumably planted revolver.  At Walker's first trial the state argued that Walker had shot Vaughn and then Barentine had shot Walker.  However, prior to the second trial, disclosed ballistic evidence showed that Vaughn had shot Walker.

Kumpe had tried to escape during the shootout and denied having a gun.  He was shot twice by Barentine.  Although no witnesses at the scene testified to Kumpe having a gun, evidence emerged that he may have possessed and fired a gun during the shootout.  Among this evidence was a diary that Kumpe wrote while he was in prison with Walker.  Kumpe's ex-wife later gave the diary to Walker's attorney.  In the diary was an entry, “I look at him [Walker] and feel much remorse that I fired too high on 4/16/63.”  The evidence makes it conceivable that Kumpe may have shot at Vaughn in defense of Walker.  Walker's conviction was overturned a second time in 1985, due in part to Kumpe's diary.  The prosecution then declined to retry Walker. Walker wrote a book in 1971 entitled Through Death's Doorway.  [11/08]

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References:   Masterson Interview, Walker v. Lockhart 1985

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Arkansas Cases, Police Officer Murder Cases, Favorite Case Stories