Billy Ray Waldon, whose first wife testified that he found “life . . . a game to see what you could get away with,” was convicted of three first-degree murder charges and 21 other counts by a San Diego County Superior Court jury Monday.
Ending a 4 1/2-month case dealing with a mid-1980s killing, rape and robbery rampage that prosecutors argued arose out of Waldon’s effort to commit perfect crimes to display his “superior” intelligence, a jury in Judge David Gill’s courtroom convicted Waldon on charges ranging from murder and rape to robbery and the malicious killing of animals.
The jury deliberated less than eight hours over two days before finding Waldon guilty of all 24 counts facing him, as well as deciding that the three murders were committed under five sets of “special circumstances” that could put Waldon on Death Row.
“I was very disappointed. I am innocent of the crimes. I am disappointed to be found guilty of something I never did,” Waldon said Monday evening in a telephone interview. “I was surprised. I thought the jury would have been fairer than that. The prosecutor presented absolutely no evidence of my guilt.”
When the verdicts were read, the 39-year-old Waldon--who calls himself Nvwtohiyada Idehesdi Sequoyah and who represented himself in a rambling defense--showed little reaction. On several occasions as the jury’s 24 guilty verdicts were being read by the court clerk, Waldon lowered his head into his hands and exchanged whispered comments with his legal adviser.
Speaking softly, Waldon told the judge that he hadn’t expected guilty verdicts. Moments before the proceedings began Monday afternoon, Waldon calmly stopped to adjust his tie and comb his hair. But, after the verdicts, Waldon made no effort to speak to a cluster of reporters.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Carpenter called Monday’s verdicts “the first step (toward) making sure that justice is done,” and the wife of one of Waldon’s murder victims also expressed satisfaction over the trial’s outcome.
Alice Wells, whose husband was murdered during Waldon’s rampage and attended every day of the trial, said: “I’m elated. . . . I couldn’t be happier.”
Wells added that she hoped Waldon receives the death penalty, saying, “I think it’s about time.”
But, in the telephone interview, Waldon said he had been denied a fair trial, claiming that he had not been able to subpoena witnesses and had not been allowed access to 44 boxes of crucial legal materials.
“Gill is one of the oldest hangmen in the courthouse, and he’s bound and determined to rush me into the gas chamber as fast as he can,” Waldon said. “I feel sort of helpless.”
Asked if he was afraid of a possible death penalty, Waldon replied: “I’m not afraid or scared, but I am hurt. I am traumatized. I do suffer, there’s no doubt about that.”
Waldon’s legal adviser, Nancy Bryn Rosenfeld, questioned whether the jury had adequately considered the circumstances surrounding the charges and alleged crimes because they had deliberated for only 90 minutes Friday and about six hours Monday.
“It’s very strange that they could have been able to analyze each element of each allegation in that time,” Rosenfeld said.
Others felt that Waldon had done his best to stall and slow his case with needless cross-examination that often lasted for days without making a clear point.
“He was a master in the court--just stalling and stalling,” Wells said. “We almost called him a ‘whiner’ because he whined about everything.”
Although Carpenter said that Waldon’s protracted, often unfocused cross-examinations made it difficult to keep the jury from being distracted by “extraneous information,” he also praised him as “a very smart individual (who) did the absolute best he could for himself.”
For more than four months, the jurors in the triple-murder trial have sat through one of the weirdest courtroom displays in recent memory. Waldon, a former Navy electronics expert who has no legal training, formulated his own defense strategy, making arguments and interrogating witnesses on the stand--including himself.
The only issue before the jury during the penalty phase will be whether Waldon should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Rejecting Waldon’s request that the penalty hearing not begin until next month, Gill--noting that jurors already have devoted more than four months to the case--scheduled it to begin Friday in the hope of completing it before Christmas. Carpenter estimated that the penalty phase would last two weeks, but he cautioned that Waldon’s unpredictability could lengthen it substantially.
When pressed by Gill on why he was not prepared to proceed quickly with that hearing and with other related motions, including one seeking a new jury to decide the sentence, Waldon told the judge: “I was ready for a not-guilty verdict.”
Carpenter alleged that Waldon’s crime rampage began at the Del Mar Heights home of Dawn Ellerman on the evening of Dec. 7, 1985, when he shot Ellerman and smashed the skulls of her two Shih Tzu dogs. He ransacked Ellerman’s home, taking computers, jewelry and coins. In an effort to conceal his crimes, Waldon used lighter fluid to start a fire, and the ensuing blaze killed Ellerman’s teen-age daughter, Erin.
One week later, Waldon resumed his crime spree, Carpenter said. On Dec. 14, 1985, a man wearing a ski mask and carrying a gun robbed Carol Franklin of her purse and wallet. The next day, the armed, masked man took the purse of Nancy Ross.
Two days later, a masked man twice raped a Pacific Beach woman. Then, on Dec. 19, 1985, a man robbed Diane Thomas of her purse. The very next day, an armed man with a ski mask tried to rob Julia Meredith of her purse. Police, however, chased the man, who fled in a car. When the car blew a tire, the man abandoned it and ran.
As he ran, the man encountered two bystanders in University Heights and opened fire. Charles G. Wells, 59, was killed and John Copeland, then 36, was wounded.
When police found the abandoned car, they discovered it was registered in Waldon’s name. Inside, police found items missing from Ellerman’s house, a photograph of the rape victim, and driver’s licenses belonging to the women whose purses had been snatched.
Throughout the trial, Waldon has maintained that he was not at the scene of any of the crimes, although he also said the suspect had been acting in self-defense in some of the crimes.
During the interview, Waldon pointed out that the prosecution had not presented either DNA evidence that linked him to the rape nor fingerprint evidence connecting him to the murders or robberies.
“The jury should have concluded that (omission) would have exculpated me,” he said. “The prosecution presented absolutely no evidence that I was guilty. I don’t have any guilt; I am innocent.”
Monday’s verdict made clear, however, that the jury was unpersuaded by Waldon.
“I just can’t express how happy I am that the truth did come out,” a beaming Wells concluded.