Walker gets three-year prison term

April 17, 2003 11:00 pm

By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

The man who pleaded guilty in a Smith River embezzlement case received a sentence of three years in prison yesterday.

Robert Martin Walker, 33, of Crescent City, pleaded guilty to grand theft and burglary in February in a plea agreement between his attorney Rick McClendon and Del Norte County District Attorney Mike Riese.

Walker, who was initially charged with embezzling approximately $200,000 from the Smith River Community Services District, paced the courtroom halls and smoked cigarettes before hearing his sentence from Judge Robert Weir.

"I can't imagine how this could have turned out good," Walker said. "I've felt bad since the day I started it (taking money) and haven't felt good since. What I did was wrong and I know I will have to pay the price."

Walker said the bulk of the district's money he took, which he claims is under $200,000, was spent on gambling. District officials claim he also bought methamphetamines for himself, as well as cars, cellular phones and wrote checks directly to friends and family.

Inside the courtroom, Walker remained silent as emotional testimony about his crimes were told to the judge.

"We take this very personal in Smith River. Everybody wants the maximum sentence we can get out of this," said Service District President Jim Floyd.

Walker admitted forging checks, approximately 40 in all, with signatures from all five boardmembers when he served as district office manager last year.

Service District Boardmember Keith Sellers said he never saw any sign of remorse from Walker after the crimes, including during the time the defendant was out on bail.

"I saw him drinking in a local tavern ... he should have been ashamed to show his face," Sellers said. "He was there drinking with the very people he stole from. I saw no sign of remorse from Mr. Walker – no sign of shame even."

Walker said he has been remorseful, but no one would know that because the people involved wouldn't speak to him.

"They're angry, and they have a right to be. There's nothing I can say to make them feel better," Walker said.

"It's real easy for people to say ‘he's remorseful only because he was caught,' but that's not true in every case. I am truly sorry and I wish I could repay the community which I stole from. It could take the rest of my lifetime to do that," said Walker.

Also at issue yesterday was a request from the service district's attorney, Dohn Henion, to have the plea deal thrown out, assuming a longer sentence could be attained through a jury trial.

"We believe this is a case that can easily be tried," said Henion. "In this case, where we see as big an abuse as possible, we want to see Mr. Walker receive the maximum sentence possible, if that can be attained at trial."

Riese told the court very little more in sentencing would be achieved by taking the case to a jury.

"If we go to trial, the court has the option of giving him three or four years," said Riese. "I don't see the court giving him less than that, and you can't give him anything more."

Riese said drug charges that were dropped in the plea bargain could not be served consecutively by Walker because they were misdemeanors.

"I can see somewhat more of a sentence that can be imposed, but not a great deal," said Weir, who also reminded the audience that no one can predict the results of a jury trial. Weir then upheld the plea agreement and imposed the aggravated sentence.

"We achieved exactly what we would have achieved had we gone to trial, given the judge's comments," Riese said afterward. "With the tools and the law I had to work with, the law was followed to its maximum extent."

Leaving the courtroom, Floyd admitted he wasn't completely satisfied.

"He got three years, and he'll probably be out in half that time. We'll be lucky if we get our books back in order by then," said Floyd. "So am I happy? I guess not."