Who Killed Robert Walker?: Court testimony offers hints to an unsolved murder

Oct 22, 2008 at 4:00 am

Elijah was three months old when his father, Robert Walker, stepped off a Metro bus and into a hail of gunfire in May 2006.

Bullets struck the seventeen-year-old Walker in the shoulder, torso and head. He died immediately at the scene, taking his last breath at the corner of Emerson and Lillian avenues, in his north St. Louis neighborhood of Walnut Park. Also injured, but surviving the melee, were the bus driver and two other teenagers, who, like Walker, were shot as they exited the bus on their way home from school. (See Chad Garrison's "Battle Lines," August 23, 2006.)

Police later called Walker's death a "gangland" homicide. None of the gunmen who ambushed the bus has ever been formally charged with the crime.

Now, more than two years later, Walker's toddler is for the first time asking about his father. "He wants to know where his daddy is," says Courtney O'Donnell, Walker's former girlfriend and Elijah's mother. "I'm not going to lie to him, but it's so difficult to explain. I tell him Robert is in heaven."

One question that eighteen-year-old O'Donnell may never have the answer to: Who killed her boyfriend, and why? It's a mystery that also haunts Walker's mother, Arthella Spence, who has given up hope of bringing her son's murderers to justice. "I haven't heard anything from the prosecutor's office or the police for more than a year," says Spence. "Last time I called them they didn't return my message."

Could it be, though, that police caught one of Walker's murderers only to see him released to kill again? That's a question that was partially touched upon earlier this month when a jury convicted sixteen-year-old LaShawn Jordan of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of Louis Davis.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Bill McClellan reported in his October 12 column on the trial, the case against Jordan was both speedy and confounding. Walker and Davis were acquaintances. Their families were good friends. Moreover, the state never presented a motive for the murder.

During the three-day trial, jurists heard how Jordan and Davis met on November 1, 2006, on a walkway in Walnut Park. They exchanged a few words. Moments later, Jordan shot Davis several times in the back. And while prosecutor Dwight Warren never presented a motive, Jordan hinted at one during his court testimony.

The defendant said he belonged to a gang that sold crack cocaine and accused three of the witnesses who testified against him of also belonging to the gang. Jordan claimed, too, that he and Davis argued about drugs just prior to Davis' death.

Not appearing in McClellan's column — and kept from the jury until after it reached it reached its guilty verdict — was Jordan's connection to Robert Walker.

After Walker's murder in May 2006, police arrested Jordan on suspicion of serving as one of the gunmen involved in the bus' ambush. Jordan would spend the next five months detained at the city's juvenile detention center. Finally, on October 2, 2006, Jordan was certified to stand trial as an adult for the murder of Robert Walker and the shootings of the three other victims also injured that day.

In defending its decision to move Jordan's case to the adult system, the juvenile court argued in a case filing that Jordan was "beyond rehabilitation under the juvenile code" and "both sophisticated and streetwise ... and is a documented member of the Geraldine Street Crips."

But once Jordan's case was transferred to the circuit court, things turned problematic, says prosecutor Dwight Warren. "A witness against him changed his story," says Warren. "He was no longer credible."

Jordan was released from jail in early October 2006. It was less than a month later that he met Davis on the sidewalk and shot him in the back.

After finding Jordan guilty of Davis' murder this month, the jury heard further testimony during the sentencing phase of the trial. A relative of Davis' testified she'd heard Jordan bragging about killing a kid as he got off a bus. That kid, says Warren, was presumably Robert Walker.

The jury later recommended that Jordan serve 30 years in prison for Davis's murder and another 20 years in prison for armed criminal action. As for the murder of Robert Walker, Warren says it's a closed case unless more witnesses come forth.

"Maybe now that one of the suspects has been convicted of another murder, more people will come forward," says Warren. "But I wouldn't want to get his family's hopes up."

Courtney O'Donnell, meanwhile, believes whoever killed her son's father will eventually pay the consequences — if they haven't already. Of the twenty kids she grew up with in the Walnut Park neighborhood, O'Donnell says just nine are still around today. The rest are either dead or incarcerated.

"It's senseless," she says. "All the killing and the violence. And for what? Nothing."