A con man already jailed for a fake gold mining scheme is to spend an additional 20 years in prison for soliciting the murder of the trial judge, prosecutors and FBI agents in a conspiracy involving a wood chipper.
John Arthur Walhall67, has a ‘serious and severe personality disorder’ marked by obsession, compulsiveness, narcissism, paranoia and delusions, but that hasn’t stopped his ability to concoct a ‘diabolical plan of murder’ who he knew was “terribly wrong”, United States Federal Judge Cormac J. Carney said Monday.
“I believe Mr. Walthall is a manipulative, dangerous, angry and sadistic man,” Carney said. “I don’t know of anything in his life or what he’s done here that would warrant a sentence of less than 20 years. Indeed, justice and respect for the rule of law demand the longest prison sentence allowed by law.
prosecutor Fred Shepard pointed out that Walthall told his would-be hitmen “if it couldn’t be done, he would do it himself when he came out”.
“He wants these people dead,” Sheppard said, referring to the now-retired U.S. District Judge. Andrew J. Guilfordwho presided over Walthall’s fraud trial, as well as FBI investigators, Brad Howard and Frank Bernaland prosecutors, assistant U.S. prosecutors Marc Takla and Ivy Wang, who is now in private practice. “He wanted them dead many years ago. He wants them dead now, and he wants them dead in 20 years. The only thing this court can do at this point is to delay this evil as long as possible. »
Sheppard said the victims – Howard and Takla watched from the gallery – “will have to look over their shoulders for as long as this defendant walks the Earth.” He also pointed out that Walthall was talking about harming their family members, “indescribable acts” motivated only by federal agents in the line of duty.
“It’s unforgivable on every level,” Sheppard said. “20 years is not even close to being appropriate for what he tried to do.”
Walthall’s eight-year lawsuit included three trials and a trip to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and it follows a jury that found him guilty of wire fraud in 2012 for a plan to investment that cheated an octogenarian couple out of their life savings based on an alleged ability to extract gold from abandoned mines. He was arrested in Nevada as a fugitive in 2011 with a gun and a book titled “How to Be Invisible.” Carney noted Walthall’s ability to obtain firearms on Monday, with Sheppard saying Walthall obtained three in total, as well as “several barrels.”
“He’s a crook playing for the public,” Sheppard said, adding that if Walthall had found the right public for his plans, the case might instead be “multiple corpses.”
Guilford presided over the fraud trial and sentenced Walthall to 14 years in prison and $2.5 million in restitution. Walthall was due to be released in 2026, but in 2014 prosecutors won a new indictment against him for soliciting the murders of Guilford, Howard, Bernall, Takla and Wang while imprisoned in Lompoc, California.
A jury convicted him in 2016 after a mistrial because a previous jury was unable to reach a verdict. But the Ninth Circuit overturned his conviction in 2019, saying Carney violated Walthall’s Sixth Amendment right by failing to make “further investigation” before denying his request to run again. Carney then held a jurisdictional hearing for Walthall before again refusing to allow him to represent himself.
The judge, a 2003 George W. Bush named, said after a jury re-convicted Walthall in April that the case was the most difficult he had ever had to handle. He said he felt sorry for the three court-appointed lawyers who have represented Walthall since 2014, the most recent being Charles C. Brown of Pasadena, who replied that he “knew the job was dangerous when I took it.”
Brown’s sentencing memo called on Carney to impose 10 years in prison, “in view of the whimsical, speculative and attenuated nature of the alleged solicitation of Mr. Walthall”. The attorney said on Monday that Walthall’s words were “reprehensible” but his plan was essentially a “thought crime” as it was “a dark revenge fantasy that had no chance of succeeding”.
“Mr. Walthall is not an evil mastermind,” Brown said. “Mr. Walthall is a damaged individual who escaped through fantasy, and as horrible as those fantasies were, Your Honor, they had no chance of succeeding in reality.
Trial testimony established that Walthall spoke in detail to two inmates about hiring a commando to use a wood chipper for their torture and murders. The inmates turned out to be informants who had tried unsuccessfully to convince other inmates of murder plots in hopes of reducing their own prison terms. The jurors at Walthall’s last trial didn’t hear about it, Antonio Rodriguezas his 30-year prison sentence for drug trafficking was reduced after his earlier testimony, and he was deported to Mexico after Walthall’s first conviction.
Brown filed a motion to dismiss based on Rodriguez’s unavailability as a witness, writing, “the government is in the unique position of making Rodriguez available for trial.” But Rodriguez asked to be paid $46,000 for his testimony, and Carney determined it was unreasonable for the government to pay that.
Brown said Monday that informants took advantage of the fact that “my client can’t stop talking.”
“He doesn’t know when to stop talking, Your Honor, to the aggravation of many and the aggravation of all,” Brown said. “But that doesn’t make my client some kind of undercover serial killer.”
Walthall testified in his own defense at trial, repeatedly accusing Brown of conspiring against him before Carney cut him off. His combative behavior continued on Monday as he demanded more time and insisted that Brown didn’t really represent him. He also told Carney that he was not legally authorized to oversee the case because he had overseen a mistrial.
“John, you’re not helping yourself. I advise you to stop talking,” Brown told him.
Sheppard called it “the continual absurdity that this defendant has engaged in for years, time and time again. Again and again.”
“Anything to delay or hinder these proceedings: that’s all he did,” Sheppard told Carney. Sheppard is with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California in San Diego, which took the case because it involves prosecutors from the Central District.
Monday’s sentencing ended with Walthall telling Carney he had no plan “under such rigged circumstances.” Carney’s clerk asked the courtroom, “All rise” as the judge left the bench. Marshals then took Walthall away without incident as he told Brown: ‘Don’t make false calls for me. You don’t represent me.
Walthall is the second man to stand trial before Guilford and later convicted of conspiring to murder the judge. In 2018, a federal jury in Fresno only deliberated six minutes before convicting Craig M. Shults of retaliating against a federal official with threats while he was serving a 90-month sentence that Guilford imposed in 2014 for a real estate flipping scheme.
Shults was sentenced to five years to be served consecutively to his original sentence, just as Walthall’s 20-year sentence must be served consecutively to his 14-year sentence. This means he will remain behind bars until around 2046.
Appointed by Bush in 2006, Guilford retired in January 2020 and now works as a private mediator and arbitrator.
Read the US Attorney’s Office sentencing memorandum for Walthall below:
[Images: jail booking photo and screenshot from UC Irvine School of Law / YouTube]
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