In her portrayal of Paul William Walden as a single-minded heroin addict on the desperate edge of withdrawal who cared nothing about running over a man and severing his leg, the prosecutor told jurors Monday the best evidence of the defendant’s lack of concern for human life came in a video clip of his interview with investigators the night of his arrest.
Three days earlier, Walden had run over Harison Long-Randall and his girlfriend and killed her four dogs.
“When he was confronted with what he did,” Deputy District Attorney Kari Reeve told the jury after playing the tape, “he said in that mocking, sneering tone, ‘All you care about is the guy with no leg and no dog.’
“This,” she said, “is the Paul Walden of July 16, 2012.”
Long-Randall died of his injuries 13 days after the crash, and Reeve on Monday asked a Sacramento Superior Court jury to convict Walden of second-degree murder. Walden also is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run, as well as driving under the influence at the time of his arrest. He was taken into custody three days after the fatal crash in the crosswalk on Garfield Avenue at Engle Road as Long-Randall, his girlfriend, Gemily West, and her Australian cattle dogs returned home from a walk at a nearby school on a warm summer night in Carmichael.
“Little did they know as they were walking back from that park that the normalcy they were enjoying would be shattered in an instant – shattered,” Reeve said, “because their lives were literally about to intersect with a man consumed by addiction, consumed by his own selfishness, his own callousness and malice.”
Walden, Reeve said, “plowed through a stop sign, ran them down at freeway speeds and continued on down the road without so much as tapping his brakes.”
Walden, 32, testified at trial that he was on the hunt to buy some heroin, but his attorney, Michael Long, insisted the defendant was not under the influence at the time of the collision.
Long said that Walden, after a four-day cross-country drive, simply fell asleep at the wheel three blocks away from the crosswalk and didn’t come to until he had crashed into a stop sign – too late to react to the people and dogs at Engle Road. Long pointed to a jury instruction that if Walden was asleep or legally unconscious, he must be acquitted of the murder charge as well as a second count of gross vehicular manslaughter.
Long cited as some of his best evidence a phone conversation Walden had with his mother when he was in jail after his arrest, when he told her “he had dozed off, before the crash, and that it was the crash that woke him up.”
“He was not conscious when he acted,” Long said.
The defense lawyer disputed that Walden was traveling in excess of 70 mph, saying he was going 45 to 50 in the 35-mph zone. Long also said the evidence does not substantiate that Walden was talking on a cellphone at the time of the crash, as Reeve argued.
Walden’s lawyer conceded that his client is guilty of hit-and-run for leaving the collision that killed Long-Randall, 21.
The panel of seven women and five men deliberated briefly Monday afternoon. They will resume their discussions today.
In her closing argument, Reeve said prosecutors believe Walden, on his return to Sacramento from Boone, N.C., obtained some heroin, got some needles at the Rite Aid at Cypress and Manzanita avenues and injected the drugs about a half-hour before the crash.
Long argued the prosecutor’s statements only amounted to an inference. Reeve, however, said it didn’t matter if Walden was under the influence. His relentless pursuit of drugs, on its own, she said, made him a danger and that he knew “full well what he was doing was hazardous to human life,” Reeve said.
Walden had been convicted of driving under the influence of drugs in 2001, 2003 and 2005, she said.
“He had been told for a decade-plus that his behavior was only going to lead to two places: harming himself or harming someone else,” Reeve told the jury.
His mother, his ex-wife and Walden’s sponsor in his Narcotics Anonymous program all warned him about his behavior, Reeve said.
“Conscious disregard for human life?” Reeve said, about one of the legal elements of implied malice needed to sustain a second-degree murder conviction. “He lives in a perpetual state of it.”
Reeve characterized Walden as “a professional drug user,” whose full-time job was to keep from going into withdrawal. She quoted the testimony of one of his heroin buddies that Walden was “desperate” to score some heroin when he returned from North Carolina.
“All he wants to do is get high,” Reeve said.
At the end of his interview with California Highway Patrol investigators, Walden sarcastically popped off to the detectives, “Thanks so much for making my life so much better,” according to the video clip. “Thank you for helping my life so much,” he added.
“Those are the parting words of a man who has just been told that there is a young man that he injured in critical condition and somebody else is seriously injured because of his actions,” Reeve said.
She said Walden returned to Sacramento as “a man on a mission. He was looking out for himself, for his wants, his needs, his cravings. And Gemily West and Harison Randall were nothing but collateral damage on Walden’s journey that night. He knew the risks of his behavior and he just didn’t care.”