Eugene Weekly : News : 3.6.08

A Right to a Fair Trial
Did Oregon’s courts fail an innocent man?

Darrell Sky Walker was convicted of manslaughter in 2006, but he hopes the Oregon State Court of Appeals March 13 will give him a new trial. Walker, 25, has already served two years at Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario. He was sentenced to six years on charges of manslaughter and assault in the death of 22-year-old UO student Phillip Gillins during an early morning altercation in 2005.

Darrell Sky Walker

His attorney, Ted Vosk of Seattle, said Walker was “denied the right” to call a witness during his jury trial, which is “one of the most fundamental rights underlying our system of justice.”

Walker had moved to Oregon from California in hopes of playing football for the UO, according to his mother Alesia Williams. The incident occurred on the night of June 10, 2005, near Taylor’s Bar around 1 or 2 am, when Walker and his friends Ryan Michael Joyce and Bryan “J.D.” Beall ran into Gillins, Jeremiah Crider and Anthony Boulis.

Both groups of men had been drinking, according to police reports. Joyce elbowed his way past Gillins, and Gillins called him a “wigger,” said Boulis in a statement to police. “Wigger” is a racially charged insult that combines “white” with the slur “nigger.”

Beall, Walker and Joyce then went to confront Gillins and his friends, according to testimony at the trial. Witnesses say a shirtless Walker approached Gillins, Crider and Boulis aggressively, asking who had called Joyce a “wigger.” Gillins then stepped forward and said that he had done it.

At this point, someone punched Gillins in the face. Walker maintains he did not throw the punch, Vosk said.

Gillins fell backwards from the blow, striking his head on the pavement, and lay unconscious, bleeding from the head and mouth. He died of brain injuries two days later at Sacred Heart Hospital on the weekend he was to have graduated from college.

Five witnesses testified at Walker’s trial that Beall admitted to knocking out Gillins. But the eyewitnesses who were Gillins’ friends — Crider and Boulis — said it was Walker. EMTs on the scene described the men as “incoherent.” Crider and Boulis also told EPD that Walker, Beall and Joyce were two black men and one white man. Walker was the only African-American present. Walker was charged with the crime; Beall was never arrested.

The other eyewitnesses, Joyce and Beall, didn’t testify at Walker’s trial. Joyce “disappeared” so he could not be called to testify, said Vosk. According to Vosk, witnesses say that Joyce hid because he was trying to protect Beall, who was his best friend, and because “the true killer’s attorney advised him that he would be thrown in jail if he testified, labeled a rat and taken care of.”

During the trial, the jury sent a note to the judge, asking where Ryan Joyce was. The judge informed the jury that they should not concern themselves with this, said Vosk.

After the trial, Walker’s second attorney, Daniel Goff, filed for a motion for a new trial, but Joyce, who had been located by a private investigator, invoked the Fifth Amendment. If someone “pleads the Fifth,” it usually means they are refusing to respond to a question because the answer could be self-incriminating. Circuit Court Judge Gregory Foote rejected the appeal.

But Vosk says the “wrong call” was made on the original appeal; Joyce should not have been able to take the Fifth because he was never accused of anything. Witnesses said Joyce did not participate in the fight.

Since the time of the trial, Vosk said, Joyce has “expressed remorse” for allowing Walker to go to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. According to Vosk, Walker’s conviction was “not beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Vosk said, “All we want is a fair trial. We just want the testimony of an eyewitness who was not intoxicated and not incoherent.”

Walker’s mother, who sends her son real estate materials to study in prison, has been working for the past two years to get her son a new trial. “I’m very concerned for my son and for the young man who died,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting Darrell a new trial, and a fair trial.”

“Darrell was no saint, but he did not kill Phillip Gillins,” said Vosk.

See EW archives from June 22 and June 29, 2006, for earlier stories on Walker’s trial.