Charleston murder suspect disappears after shedding monitoring bracelet
An accused murderer from Charleston is on the lam after shedding his electronic monitoring bracelet last week, but authorities hope a new state law will help get him back behind bars in short order.
Travaris Walker, 29, of Bull Street in Charleston, somehow heated his monitoring bracelet, stretched it out of shape and slipped it off while awaiting trial for a December homicide, authorities said. The monitoring company found the unit with its battery dead at an abandoned house in West Ashley.
Not long ago, it might have taken weeks to schedule a court hearing and go through the process of properly notifying Walker of the state’s desire to yank his $125,000 bond for his missteps, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said.
But a change in state law that went into effect this year allows authorities to press for emergency hearings on bail violators if they can show an imminent danger to the community. The hearings must be held within 48 hours of the request.
Wilson, a vocal proponent of the change, put the measure to use for the first time this week, which resulted in an emergency hearing Friday in which Circuit Judge Markley Dennis issued a bench warrant for Walker’s arrest. Charleston County sheriff’s deputies and Charleston police were soon out hunting for the wayward suspect to haul him into court.
“This statute now provides us a way to get into court on an expedited basis when we see that a defendant poses an imminent threat,” Wilson said. “This was an important step in our efforts to reform the bail bond process.”
Walker, nicknamed “Smurf,” is accused of fatally shooting 25-year-old Marquis Rashad Richardson in the head Dec. 19 in Lincolnville after Walker and three others allegedly abducted Richardson from a peninsula home. Investigators said Walker shot Richardson after he was unable to reclaim some property he believed Richardson had taken from him.
Walker, who also has a pending cocaine trafficking count, spent about six months in jail before being released on bail in late June on the condition that he submit to monitoring of his whereabouts, court records show.
Greg Robinson of Robinson Monitoring said Walker used a torch or something similar to heat and stretch the bracelet enough to slip it off. He then plugged the unit into an outlet in an abandoned house on the property where he was staying, he said.
The unit remained charged, indicating Walker was where he was supposed to be, while he evidently moved about as he pleased, Robinson said. Monitoring company officials got wind of his actions last weekend, and they and the bondsman went looking for Walker, Robinson said.
They eventually spoke with him by phone, and Walker pledged to turn himself in on Monday, but that didn’t happen, Robinson said. They quickly alerted Wilson’s office, setting in motion the events that led to Friday’s hearing.
Walker’s public defender, Beattie Butler, didn’t dispute that his client and his monitoring bracelet had become separated. But he told the judge he had not spoken to Walker, who didn’t show for the hearing, and didn’t know the circumstances involved.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, who also pushed for the bail reform law, said the Walker episode is exactly the type of case proponents envisioned when they advocated the change.
“In the past, it was kind of like chasing our tails to get to this point, even though the defendants had shown they were not going to abide by the conditions of bail,” he said. “This gives us a mechanism to get into court quickly.”
Mullen said he, Wilson and others plan to go back to the Legislature to push for more measures to tighten up the bail process. Among other things, he would like to see problem offenders bear the burden of proving why they should remain on bail rather place the onus on prosecutors.
State Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, is a former prosecutor and one of several local lawmakers who worked to win approval of the new law. He said there is resistance from some legislators to making it more burdensome for offenders to seek bail, as these suspects are still presumed innocent. But he said there may still be room to tighten up the process.
“It has been needed for a long time,” McCoy said. “We need to do everything we can to protect folks in the community from habitual lawbreakers.”
Wilson also has been pushing for better oversight of electronic monitoring after several offenders were found freely roaming the streets around Charleston while they were supposed to be on house arrest. Three hearings have been held so far to explore those problems, and Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald has vowed to penalize companies that don’t closely monitor and report criminal defendants’ whereabouts after they are released from jail with electronic trackers.
“It is a sad day when defendants are more afraid of being carted off to jail for their cellphone ringing in a courtroom than they are afraid of going back to jail after being arrested multiple times while on bond,” Wilson said. “Bond settings are court orders, and we have to do all we can to enforce them and to see that there are consequences for thumbing their nose at the court and our system.”