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Joseph Walker

Other South Carolina Exonerations
On Sunday, March 3, 2002, a woman reported to police in Denmark, South Carolina, that she had been kidnapped and raped the previous night.

The woman said that she had stopped at a gas station in Denmark on March 2 at about 7 or 8 p.m., and when she went to leave, her car would not start. She said a man who was a customer in the station agreed to help her and managed to get her car started by replacing a part under the hood of her car. Because she had no money, she asked the man to follow her in his car to her home so she could get money to pay him.

She said that upon arriving at her home, the man blindfolded her and drove her to his house where he kept her overnight and sexually assaulted her. She told police that at 5 a.m. on March 3, he blindfolded her again and drove her back to her home. She said that she made herself a drink and then called police.

The police obtained a video surveillance tape from the gas station and the woman identified a man on the tape as the man who kidnapped and raped her. The police went to the gas station where an employee identified the man picked out by the woman as 44-year-old Joseph Walker.

Walker was questioned and in a videotaped interview, he admitted going to the gas station on March 2 but denied providing assistance to anyone there with car trouble. He also denied any knowledge of the crime or the victim. Walker told police that after leaving the gas station, he spent the afternoon and evening at a friend’s home and then returned to the home of his girlfriend, Robina Reed, at 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. and spent the rest of the night there.

Three weeks after the incident, Walker was arrested and charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping.

He went to trial in Bamberg County Circuit Court in July 2003. The victim identified him as her attacker. No physical evidence linked Walker to the attack. After the woman reported the crime, she went to a hospital where a rape kit was taken, but it was never analyzed. A DNA test was performed on a bite mark that the woman said was left by her attacker, but Walker’s DNA was not found. The woman’s fingerprints were not found in Walker’s home.

On July 23, 2003, a jury convicted Walker of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree and kidnapping. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

In 2005, Walker filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial, arguing that his trial lawyer had failed to conduct an adequate investigation by failing to interview Walker’s girlfriend, Reed, to establish his alibi.

At the hearing, Walker's trial lawyer admitted that she viewed the videotaped interview of Walker and that her notes contained the name “Robina Reed” as a person to interview but that she never interviewed Reed. She testified that her investigator spoke with or tried to speak with Reed, but she never followed up with her investigator.

Reed testified at the hearing that she was never contacted about Walker’s case until she heard from the lawyer handling the post-conviction petition. She stated that in March of 2002, she was in a romantic relationship with Walker, but he disappeared near the end of that month. She later discovered the disappearance was the result of his arrest. She testified that she and Walker spent every weekend together during their relationship.

The trial court granted Walker’s motion and vacated his convictions. The court found that his trial lawyer had failed to interview Reed and that Reed was credible. The judge held that Reed’s alibi testimony created the reasonable probability that Walker would have been acquitted had she testified. The court also found that Walker’s lawyer had failed to cross-examine the victim about discrepancies in her account, including that she told police that her car stalled at the station between 7 and 8 p.m., but the station’s surveillance tape showed the woman was there at 3:30 p.m.—four to five hours earlier.

In February 2012, the South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the order granting a new trial, holding that while Walker’s trial lawyer’s failure to interview Reed was deficient performance, Reed’s testimony was imprecise and would not have led the jury to acquit him.

In March 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the appeals court and vacated Walker’s convictions. The court held that the judge who heard Reed’s testimony was in the best position to judge her credibility and the potential impact her testimony would have had during Walker’s trial.

On April 9, 2014, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Walker was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/25/2014
State:South Carolina
County:Bamberg
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Kidnapping
Reported Crime Date:2002
Convicted:2003
Exonerated:2014
Sentence:24 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:44
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No