The high-profile case of a man accused of trying to hire two convicts to put a hit on U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Guilford, FBI agents, and federal prosecutors got off to a screaming start today after defendant John Arthur Walthall literally did just that.
As Walthall's defense lawyer, Tim Scott, was describing him to the jury inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse as having paranoid-psychotic tendencies, the defendant leaned over into the microphone and told a shocked jury, "Enough of this. You're terminated as my lawyer!"
Presiding Judge Cormac J. Carney told Walthall to be quiet; Walthall replied that Scott's defense was false, and that the government had put him in a van that morning next to the two accused snitches that he says set him up, and that he'd been threatened.
Carney then ordered U.S. marshalls to remove Walthall from the courtroom and place him into a holding cell outside of view from the jury, which he recused for a moment while talking to Scott. He told the defense lawyer to talk to Walthall at lunch and let his client know that if he agreed to be respectful, he'd be able to return to the courtroom; if not, Walthall would have to remain in the holding cell for the rest of the trial.
"I knew this was coming," the judge quipped to the lawyers before the jury returned. The defendant's mental status has been a hotly debated issue for several years. When Carney brought the jury back in, he gave special instructions to ignore everything that Walthall and the judge had just said. "I just didn't think it would be this early."
Federal prosecutors allege that Walthall tried to contract two people to kidnap, torture and murder Guilford, two FBI agents, and prosecutors. The defendant "worked methodically and slowly on this plot to kill all these people," Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Sheppard said in his opening statements. "Because he was incredibly, incredibly angry."
Sheppard stated said the FBI "took steps" to verify Walthall's outlandish plot by sending an undercover agent to meet with the defendant in a prison yard, where Walthall explained his plan.
"The defendant wrote out letters of how he wanted these crimes of violence to occur," said Sheppard, saying it was Walthall's dream to have his victims driven around in Ryder rental trucks, and to have Guilford put in a "fucking wood chipper."
According to the prosecutor, "[Walthall] wrote out [his proposed crimes] step by step by step," and he told the guy it all sounded "absolutely fantastical . . . at times nutty . . . [but] he wanted blood on the streets."
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Scott countered in his opening statement that the men Walthall allegedly contacted—a Colombian convicted of gun-running, and a Mexican drug dealer in Nebraska—were longtime criminals and government informants, and that they approached the defendant to sell info to the government for their own use. "Those two informants, they mixed their judge scam into his delusions," he said. "They nursed the flames of his anger."
He also disclosed that Walthall wrote a 500-plus page manifesto that mentioned the Archdiocese of San Bernardino, Edward Snowden, the Illuminati, and the NSA, among others. His writings were "absolutely crazy."
But those two informants Walthall complained about, Scott said, are trying to "frame an innocent man. It's a setup." He promised to call to the stand other witnesses who claim that the two snitches had approached them with a similar plan of mayhem as a way to reduce their own sentences.
After Walthall's outburst, the trial proceeded to the first witness: Mark Takla, a federal prosecutor who helped send the defendant to prison originally for fraud involving a Nevada gold mining scam.