The selfless and the selfish collided again Friday, this time in court instead of a Carmichael crosswalk: the spirit of a dead hero extolled in the presence of the blank-faced junkie who killed him.
Harison Long-Randall, 21, pushed his girlfriend safely out of the way of the speeding car that mowed him down that July night, severing a leg and causing injuries that led to his death 13 days later. Behind the wheel of the 1987 Nissan Maxima was Paul William Walden, now 33, who prosecutors say had either just shot up heroin or was on a desperate, reckless search for a fix.
Before the judge sentenced Walden to state prison for 25 years to life, Long-Randall’s father, Chris Randall, recalled how he wept at the side of his boy’s hospital bed 12 days after the July 2012 collision, how his dying son “never complained about all the operations or being ripped in half or having pelvis surgery.”
“People are calling you a hero, Hari,” Randall said he told his son the day before his death. If he hadn’t put his body on the line to save his girlfriend, “he wouldn’t have had a scratch on him,” Randall said.
He said his son brushed off such hero talk.
“I only did what you and Mom taught me to do – the right thing,” Randall quoted his son as saying.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette, in his sentencing remarks, told the story of the man seated at the defense table whom a jury convicted last month in the hit-and-run murder that killed Long-Randall, injured his girlfriend, Gemily West, and killed her four Australian cattle dogs. Before the hit-and-run, Walden had been convicted three times in the last 11 years for driving under the influence.
The judge noted that when the California Highway Patrol arrested Walden amid widespread publicity three days after the collision, the defendant closed out his interview with investigators by saying, “Thanks for ruining my life.”
“So it’s not enough to say Mr. Walden is a man without good character,” Marlette said in court. “It’s not enough to say he is selfish. But the measure of his selfishness can be taken in those few words that he says to the detectives.”
Marlette turned his focus to Walden: “I can’t grasp the depth of your selfishness. Your selfishness and your lack of empathy and your lack of appreciation for the damage you have caused, by this collision, is astounding.”
Following a two-week trial, Walden’s jury returned his second-degree murder conviction on May 13, after four hours of deliberation. The panel also found him guilty of felony hit-and-run and gross vehicular manslaughter, and it found true the allegation he inflicted great bodily injury on West, who sustained a leg fracture so severe that doctors implanted a metal rod to help her walk again.
Prosecutors did not charge Walden with being under the influence at the time of the crash; but he was convicted of a separate DUI count because a drug test showed he had marijuana and Xanax in his system when he was pulled over days after the crash and taken into custody.
On the night of the fatal collision, Walden was returning to the Sacramento area following a nonstop four-day drive from North Carolina, according to evidence presented at trial. Deputy District Attorney Kari Reeve theorized during her arguments that he bought heroin almost immediately upon his arrival.
She said in her closing argument that circumstantial evidence indicated Walden shot up in the parking lot of a Rite Aid on Manzanita and Cypress avenues, about a mile from the collision site on Garfield Avenue. Minutes after he left the parking lot, he slammed into Long-Randall and West as they were crossing Garfield, at Engle Road, about 10 p.m., walking their dogs on a hot summer night.
Even if he didn’t ingest the heroin in the drugstore parking lot, Reeve argued that Walden’s driving speed and his admission that he was looking to purchase the drug established a level of recklessness that amounted to implied malice.
“On the night this crime was committed, the defendant was a ticking time bomb and had been for some period of time,” Reeve said Friday. She called Walden’s behavior “cold, callous, uncaring, unremorseful.”
Walden’s attorney, Michael Long, asked the judge “to distinguish between vengeance and justice” and to sentence Walden to only 20 years to life.
In a flat and emotionless voice, Walden, in his statement to the court, reiterated his trial testimony that he had fallen asleep at the wheel in the moments before his car slammed through a stop sign and plowed through the intersection. The closest witness to the crash estimated his speed at 75 to 90 miles per hour. The speed limit on Garfield Avenue was 35 miles per hour.
“By falling asleep at the wheel, I have caused much pain, and I’m really sorry,” he said. “To Gemily West, I apologize and pray that in time, your physical and emotional scars will heal. To the Long-Randall family, if there’s little if any consolation, I’m infinitely sorry. My heart goes out to you now and until I stop breathing. I’m truly sorry for the devastation I have caused.”
In their statements to the court, Long-Randall’s family mourned the loss of a kind and funny man who made a friend of every stranger. He had attended Del Campo High School, where he graduated despite a struggle with learning disabilities. They spoke of his devotion to anime role-playing games, and showed a video of him appearing in character at conventions and leading parades costumed in a spiky white wig and red cloak.
In her statement, West described her four dogs as “my passion, my everyday dedication, my fur kids.” She called Long-Randall “my love … my focus,” and after the collision, “my reason to get better, to help him with his recovery. I thought he was going to make it.”
West still lives on Garfield Avenue at Engle Road.
“I’m reminded every day of sitting in the street with all the carnage around me,” she said in a statement read by the prosecutor, “because every day I can see where it all happened, just outside my home.”
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.