Walker Gets Life Sentence for Murder of S.D. Woman
A federal judge sentenced Buck Walker to life in prison Friday for the murder of a San Diego woman whose bones were found in 1981 beside a lagoon, 6 1/2 years after she vanished from a remote island south of Hawaii.
Walker, 47, who still has more than 11 years to serve for other federal crimes, was given a consecutive sentence by visiting U.S. District Judge Samuel King of Honolulu, who called the killing of Eleanor (Muff) Graham a “particularly heinous crime.”
Walker’s girlfriend, Stephanie Stearns, 38, will be tried separately on the same murder charge.
A life sentence under federal law means 10 to 30 years before possibility of parole. Lawyers in the case said they did not know when a parole commission would consider Walker eligible for release, but defense attorney Earle Partington told reporters Walker would likely be in his 60s before he was freed.
Partington had asked King to give Walker a concurrent life sentence, his only other option. Noting that Walker would be 58 when his first sentence ends, Partington said, “I don’t think the government should be operating a geriatric ward.”
But Assistant U.S. Atty. Elliot Enoki said a consecutive sentence was justified for a murder he called “particularly vicious.”
The prosecution said Walker and Stearns killed Mrs. Graham on Palmyra, an island about 1,000 miles south of Honolulu, in order to steal a luxury yacht owned by Mrs. Graham and her husband, Malcolm.
The Grahams were last contacted by radio in August, 1974. Bones found near the island’s lagoon by a yachtswoman in January, 1981, were determined to be those of Mrs. Graham. Her husband’s body has never been found.
Though there was no direct evidence of how the killing took place, Enoki argued to the jury that circumstantial evidence showed Walker killed Mrs. Graham to get her boat and its supplies.
He said the evidence showed that the sailboat owned by Walker and Stearns was leaking badly and was short of provisions, that there was hostility between the two couples, and that Walker had a gun. Walker is serving time for interstate transportation of the Grahams’ stolen yacht, among other crimes.
One prosecution witness said a sobbing Mrs. Graham had told her in July, 1974, that she knew she would never leave Palmyra alive.
A former fellow inmate of Walker’s, branded a liar by the defense, testified that Walker had told him of making Malcolm Graham “walk the plank.”
Partington said an appeal was being prepared, challenging instructions King gave to the jury, and contending that the judge was wrong in admitting evidence of Mrs. Graham’s fears and in excluding a videotape offered by the defense.