Accused Killer’s Self-Defense Off to Shaky Start : Courts: Billy Ray Waldon admits he failed to impress the jury with his rambling opening statement denying the 24 charges of rape, murder and animal killing.
Billy Ray Waldon began his self-defense in his triple-murder trial Thursday with a lengthy and rambling opening statement that promised jurors they would hear from numerous witnesses who will testify that he was framed by the FBI and CIA.
In a drawn-out opening statement, Waldon told the jury they would hear witnesses from as far away as Europe testify about his “gentle” and “honest” character that sharply contrasts with the violent picture that prosecutors painted of the accused murderer.
Waldon, 39, is charged with 24 crimes, including three murders, one attempted murder, a rape and the malicious killing of animals that occurred in 1985 and 1986. Tulsa, Okla., police say that Waldon, who is an Oklahoma native, is also a suspect in four robberies and assaults and one murder in the Tulsa area.
Waldon said Thursday that other unnamed witnesses would testify that he was framed by an FBI COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO is an acronym for a counter intelligence operation, which was an FBI domestic spying program against U.S. citizens initiated in the 1960s and 1970s.
The identities of Waldon’s witnesses remained unknown Thursday, because he has refused to give prosecutors and San Diego Superior Court Judge David Gill a list of the witnesses he expects to call. Nonetheless, Gill expressed skepticism that Waldon would call the people he said would testify on his behalf.
“I really don’t believe that you’re going to call any of these witnesses, other than your two cellmates,” Gill said at one point, while the jury was outside the courtroom.
Waldon, who also calls himself by a Cherokee name, Nvwtohiyada Idehesdi Sequoyah, has tested the patience of the judge and the jury over the past two days. His opening statement, which was originally scheduled to begin Wednesday, had been delayed by numerous sidebar meetings with Gill and Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Carpenter.
In a telephone conversation from his jail cell Thursday, Waldon acknowledged that his opening statement failed to impress the jury.
“I don’t think it went very well at all. It went well for the prosecution. COINTELPRO, that’s my whole defense. That’s why I’ve been accused of crimes I didn’t commit,” he said.
Waldon, who is taking the unusual step of representing himself at the trial, has been frequently unprepared to move forward with his defense. During most delays, which are often lengthy, the jury has been asked to step outside while Waldon, Gill and Carpenter debate legal points.
When the jury is inside the courtroom, the trial has moved at a snail’s pace while Waldon thinks out his next move, leading to some awkward pauses.
On Thursday, several jurors clearly looked disinterested while Waldon delivered his opening statement. Gill, noting that some jurors are getting antsy over the pace of the trial that began July 1, warned Waldon on Wednesday to pay attention to the jury.
“You should give a little more thought to the impression you’re making on the jury,” Gill said, when the jurors were out of their presence. " . . . Your life may be literally in their hands.”
The judge repeated his admonition Thursday.
“If you paid any attention to the jurors, you lost them a long time ago. I hope they pay attention to the witnesses you’re going to call,” Gill said.
In the telephone interview with The Times, Waldon blamed the delays on Gill, charging that the judge has limited his access to documents necessary for his defense. He said he is forced to review the documents during the trial, which causes delays.
“You have to pause to review documents. It takes a long time,” Waldon said. “The jury sits there and gets bored, but should I stop presenting a defense? . . . I don’t believe that any jury is going to find someone guilty because they paused a lot during a trial.”
Waldon is charged with fatally shooting Dawn Ellerman on Dec. 7, 1985, in her Del Mar Heights home and setting the house on fire. Ellerman’s 13-year-old daughter, Erin, died in the blaze. He is accused of shooting and killing Charles Gordon Wells and wounding John Copeland, after an armed robbery on Dec. 19, 1985. Waldon is also charged with raping an elementary school teacher the same year.
In late December, 1985, San Diego police recovered Waldon’s car after a chase. The driver escaped, but inside investigators found items missing from the Ellerman home, a missing photo of the rape victim and a purse and driver’s licenses from people identified by police as Waldon’s robbery victims.
But, Waldon told the jury Thursday, “I’m innocent of the crimes I’m accused of.”
Waldon said he will call witnesses whose “testimony will show why I was accused of crimes I didn’t commit.” The accusations against him resulted from a COINTELPRO launched against him by the FBI and CIA, he added.
“They (defense witnesses) will testify that I’m not the only Indian . . . targeted by COINTELPRO. My witnesses will testify to the reason why I was targeted . . . because, in 1984 in Switzerland, I founded the exiled government of the Cherokee nation,” Waldon said. ". . . The FBI and CIA didn’t want people across the world to study the history of the Cherokee nation.”
As for the items discovered in his car, Waldon said in the telephone interview that “federal agents put all that stuff in my car. It’s all part of their COINTELPRO operation.”
At one point Thursday, Gill said he had heard enough about Waldon’s FBI-CIA conspiracy theory and told him to proceed to the next part of his opening statement.
“I think it’s very doubtful that such evidence will be presented to the jury,” Gill said.
“The judge is always delivering these rude and crude remarks,” Waldon said in the interview. “I’ve become immune toward his rantings. . . . In spite of his obstructive tactics, I’m still going to call witnesses.”
Waldon’s tongue has also become an issue during the trial. The rape victim testified that her attacker forced his tongue inside her mouth. Waldon later said that he was born with a tongue abnormality and is unable to stick it outside his mouth.
But, on Thursday, Waldon unconsciously licked his lower lip with his tongue at least 10 times. This was not lost on prosecutor Carpenter, who during a recess approached a television cameraman who was filming inside the courtroom and asked how the prosecution team could get a copy of the film.
Waldon’s insistence on being called Sequoyah has also raised some confusion. Gill refers to him as “Mr. Sequoyah.” Waldon refers to the other person who he says committed the crimes he is charged with as “the suspect.” Carpenter refers to Waldon as “the suspect, Mr. Waldon.” The crime victims who testified at his trial referred to their attacker as “you,” while being questioned by Waldon.