James Dean Walker
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
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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