Joseph Walker, a South Carolina native’s, case highlights the role that ineffective assistance of counsel can play in a wrongful conviction. In this case, trial counsel failed to investigate Walker’s alibi.
On Saturday, March 2, 2002, the victim stopped at a gas station in Denmark, South Carolina. When she tried to leave, her car would not start. A man offered to help her and replaced a part in her car. The victim didn’t have any money on her, so she offered to have the man follow her home so she could pay him. Once they arrived at her home, the man blindfolded her, drove her to his home, and sexually assaulted her over the course of the night. The next morning, he again blindfolded her and took her home.
The police obtained a videotape from the gas station, and the victim identified Walker as her assailant. Walker was then questioned and admitted he had been at the gas station, but said he never helped anyone with a car. Instead, he said he left the station, spent the afternoon and evening at a friend’s house, and then traveled to his girlfriend’s house for the rest of the night.
Based on the identification, Walker was arrested and tried for the crime. He was found guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree and kidnapping and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
During his post-conviction proceeding, Walker alleged his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel when she failed to interview his girlfriend. The lawyer admitted she had the girlfriend’s name in her notes, but that she was never interviewed.
Walker’s former girlfriend testified at the hearing that no one interviewed her, and she admitted that Walker spent every weekend with her.
The PCR judge found that Walker received ineffective assistance of counsel and granted a new trial. The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed that decision and found that essentially the alibi was not “complete” since her testimony did not account for every single moment of the day and therefore, according to the court, it was still physically possible that Walker committed the crime. The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, reversed the court of appeals and found that the PCR judge had found the girlfriend credible, and that had she been called to testify at trial, there “reasonably could have resulted… a different outcome.”
Arrested in 2002, Walker was tried in 2003. He was ultimately released on April 9, 2014.