ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Walter Washington doesn’t have an issue talking about his storied past, but he takes issue with being labeled by a crime he told us he didn’t commit.
Washington grew up in the New Malibu neighborhood of Orlando and went to Evans High school. He is one of four children, the second oldest.
His mother believes his trouble started when she moved to Atlanta.
“Malibu is only a place where you grow up and grow out of. I always tell the ones that came up here, if your mind is not set and your spirit is not strong, this is not the place to be,” Betty Butler told investigative reporter Daralene Jones. “I moved away from there, I go back and visit some of the old neighbors who were there when we moved in, but it’s not a place I choose to hang, I never wanted my kids to hang there, but it’s family there.”
Walter was always a loner, she said. And he’s alone now, serving 30 years in state prison for shooting another man, who is now paralyzed, but the victim now claims that he lied when he testified during the trial.
“He’s not a violent person. Has he been to prison before, federal, yes, but he’s not the one for this, he’s the quiet one,” Butler said.
It’s a bizarre case, but 9 Investigates decided to sift through the case files and extract the facts to let you determine for yourself.
The case is on its second appeal, but a Tampa-based attorney, Rachel Reese is now working the case, pro bono, she told Jones.
Orlando police built a case against Washington in 2014. According to court records and trial transcripts, that summer, Washington started a violent gunfight that left another man paralyzed.
“My son didn’t do the shooting and the victim came back and clarified that,” Butler told Jones.
The gunfight was triggered by a verbal argument outside of an apartment complex near Washington Shores.
In his own words, from Madison Correctional Institution, Walter Washington told what he claims happened next.
“I had a phone call … he called and told me that his windows had been shot out from a party. And I told him, ‘Walt I told y’all about going to parties.’”
She said he refused to let her help find him an attorney.
“He said mom, I’m coming home, I didn’t do anything wrong. I thought he was coming home, you know, he was innocent. I didn’t know that they was just gone through charges on him and put my son in prison for 30 years,” Butler explained.
Washington’s mother and his attorney arranged for us to speak with him over the phone from Madison Correctional Institution, where he’s serving his sentence.
It was one of two calls we had with Washington while working on this story.
During the first call, he focused on recounting the day he and his stepsons went to that party. “I see both of my stepsons in a little altercation. I said, ‘ya’ll man, let’s go.’”
So they came and got back in the truck and we backed up and as we was driving off, one of my stepsons looking back in the crowd, so he was like Walt, go, they shooting,” Walter stated.
It’s the same story he told a judge during his first appeal, alleging he had an ineffective public defender.
By then, he had hired a private attorney, who told us she’s now working the case pro bono.
She told us she initially tried to appeal the case based on issued with his previous counsel, but that was denied.
“The whole story from the state’s perspective was that Walter Washington came there with a grudge. There were as a dispute, he was seen walking around, waving a firearm around then proceeds to get into his vehicle, and as they’re driving away, he proceeds to shoot,” Rachel Reese told Jones.
The victim provided emotional testimony describing how he looked the shooter in the face, as he glanced over his shoulder, and that’s when Washington shot him in the back, all while driving in reverse to escape the shootout.
After that first appeal was denied, Reese thought they had no other choice but to accept the outcome, but then she said the victim came forward and recanted his story.
“The only reason that Walter Washington was ever convicted was because several eyewitnesses, every single one of them, except for one was related to the victim said that it was him,” Reese said.
Channel 9 made contact with the victim over the phone. He told us he was going through rehab for his injuries, and initially told us he would speak with us, but then stopped answering our calls.
Jones was able to track down his mother, who told us, while he has no issue testifying in court, he was afraid to go public in front of a television camera. We tried to connect with him, again, and he still hasn’t returned our calls.
Court records filed in the case show that he has signed an affidavit swearing to a list of items, including that he made up that story after speaking with family members that night of the shooting, at the hospital, one of whom allegedly had a vendetta against Washington.
The victim further affirms that some of the people who testified weren’t at the party.
“We filed another motion, which is under newly discovered evidence, that basically he should be entitled to a new trial,” Reese said.
Detectives testified during the original trial that although several dozen people were at the party, no one would cooperate during the investigation.
The judge in the first appeal even expressed serious concerns about that in open court.
Reese also leans on the fact that the gun was never found. And the paralyzing bullet was never recovered.
Investigators said they recovered a single shell casing in the back of Washington’s car that matched one of four different types of gun casings found near the victim’s body.
“A gun was never shot out of the vehicle, so how did they find a 40 casing in the backseat, I don’t know it that was put there Ms. Jones, ain’t no telling because the truck was at the tow place for about two days just before they released it and I’m the driver,” Washington said during one of two recorded calls.
In addition to this second appeal, his attorney has also applied for relief through the state’s attorney conviction integrity unit, which was spearheaded by State Attorney Monique Worrell prior to taking over the office.
“The purpose of conviction integrity is to address the fact that our system is foolable. We are all human beings err by nature and to ignore that puts us in a very dangerous situation where we have individuals who spend decades in prison for crimes they did not commit,” Worrell said.
We did not speak specifically about Washington’s case, during our interviews with the state attorney or the head of the conviction integrity unit because Washington has applied for the program, but the head of the unit explained how their process works.
“We pull all of the records, including trial records, sentencing records. We do a very thorough search because we find that sometimes someone may be pointing at one thing that could help prove their innocence, and in fact there are other things that we may find that do in fact point to an issue with the case,” Ginger Miranda told Jones.
There is a long cue before Washington’s case would get any consideration, dozens of cases stacked in boxes in her office are already under review.
The division currently has 115 cases under review, and one project which involves the review of more than 2,000 cases.
There have been 2,946 exonerations nationwide since 1989 and more than 25,000 years lost in society.
“My son told me when he got them 30 years, he said, mom, please don’t let me die in prison. And I aunt and I’m (going to) honor his word. I’m bringing my baby home, cause he’s innocent,” Butler said.
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