Despite Guilty Verdict, Mystery of Palmyra Lingers On : Sister Sat Through Trial, Hoping for Clues to Brother’s Death in South Pacific
A federal jury found Buck Duane Walker guilty Tuesday of premeditated murder in the 1974 killing of a wealthy San Diego woman on a remote Pacific atoll.
Walker sat quietly as the verdict was read after just 2 hours, 15 minutes of deliberation in the 11-day trial before Judge Samuel P. King.
Walker, 48, was convicted of killing Eleanor (Muff) Graham, 42, whose skeletal remains were found on Palmyra Island, 1,100 miles southwest of Hawaii, seven years after she and her husband, Malcolm (Mac) Graham, 43, vanished on the atoll.
The underlying government accusation throughout the trial has been that Walker killed both Eleanor and Malcolm Graham and then stole their 37-foot yacht with the help of a woman companion.
Walker faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Defense attorney Earle Partington said he was not surprised by the verdict of the six-man, six-woman jury “in light of the judge’s rulings during the trial.” Partington, who accused King of “assisting the prosecution,” said he planned to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mary McIntosh, the sister of Malcolm Graham, said the verdict came as a relief.
“I’m pleased,” she said while near tears. “My brother wrote me from the island about what was going on--the tension. There was no way you could get my brother’s boat without killing him.”
Assistant U.S. Atty. Elliot Enoki said he too was pleased with the ruling but expressed surprise at how quickly the verdict was returned.
Noel Ingman, a former companion of Walker’s while both were in McNeil Island Prison in Washington, testified early in the trial that Walker bragged of making Mac Graham “walk the plank” and that he had “blown away” the couple.
Partington claimed Ingman was a heroin dealer who addicted many of his family members, then turned them in to police. He said Ingman, who went into hiding under the government’s witness protection program, was paid $30,000 in living expenses to testify.
“Ingman is an appalling, worthless liar,” Partington said.
Partington said it was possible that Walker’s companion, Stephanie Stearns, actually killed Mrs. Graham. Stearns has been convicted of stealing the Graham yacht. She also faces a murder trial.