Jury Convicts Man of 1974 Murder on Pacific Island
A federal jury Tuesday found Buck Duane Walker guilty of first-degree murder in the 1974 killing of Eleanor (Muff) Graham on remote Palmyra atoll.
After an 11-day trial, the panel of six men and six women deliberated only 2 1/2 hours before notifying U.S. District Judge Samuel P. King of the verdict.
Outside the courtroom, Assistant U.S. Atty. Elliot Enoki said, “We were confident of the verdict.”
U.S. Justice Department trial attorney Walter E. Schroeder said, " . . . I’m glad to see justice was done after all this time. . . . Muff Graham went a long time without retribution.”
Kit McIntosh of Seattle, the sister of Graham’s husband, Malcolm--who vanished from the island--was near tears.
“I’m pleased,” she said. “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.”
Walker “murdered Muff Graham to get the (Graham) sailboat and its supplies,” Enoki argued during the trial, contending that circumstantial evidence was as good as direct evidence. The 47-year-old defendant had the “motive, means and opportunity” to kill Eleanor Graham and steal the couple’s boat, Sea Wind, sometime between Aug. 28 and Sept. 4, 1974, the prosecutor maintained.
Defense attorney Earle Partington said he will appeal the verdict.
During his final arguments, Partington pointed out the prosecution’s obligation to prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” labeled many of their conclusions “ridiculous” and asked for acquittal.
Enoki attempted to depict Walker as a man growing increasingly “desperate” on Palmyra, 1,000 miles south of Honolulu. The prosecutor said Walker’s boat, Iola, was leaking badly and carried dwindling provisions, adding, “The motive (for Eleanor Graham’s murder) is so strong, it about overwhelms the rest of the case.”
Walker “is a boat thief but not a murderer,” Partington admitted of his client, but he swept aside virtually all of the government’s case as “worthless.” The lawyer said it was possible that Walker’s companion, Stephanie Stearns, actually killed Eleanor Graham. Stearns has been convicted of stealing the Graham yacht and also faces trial in the murder.
Partington said the “hinge pin” in the trial was Noel (Al) Ingman, a fellow inmate of Walker at McNeil Island Federal Prison in Washington state. Ingman testified that Walker bragged of making Malcolm Graham “walk the plank” and that he had “blown away” the couple.
Ingman is an “appalling, obvious liar,” Partington said, adding that the witness was a heroin dealer.