Retrial begins of Laguna Beach man accused of plotting to kill judge, prosecutors and FBI agents

Central District Court Judge Andrew Guilford
U.S. District judge Andrew Guilford, shown in his courtroom in 2018, sentenced John Arthur Walthall to 14 years in prison in 2012. While in jail, prosecutors said, Walthall hatched a plot to kidnap Guilford and force him to exonerate him.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

A former Laguna Beach resident is being retried this week on an alleged revenge plot that sought the murder of federal prosecutors, FBI agents and a judge.

The 2016 conviction of John Arthur Walthall, 66, was overturned by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 after the court found the district court committed a “structural error” by failing to inform Walthall of his right to self-representation. Walthall during his trial alleged the judicial system and his former defense attorney, Timothy Scott, were conspiring to send him to die in prison.

Walthall allegedly hatched the murder scheme while serving time in prison following a 2012 conviction on four counts of wire fraud and one count of failure to appear in court. After a jury found him guilty of those charges, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford.

The plot involved the kidnapping of Guilford with the intent of forcing him to exonerate Walthall. Afterward, Guilford would be tortured and shredded by wood chipper, according to court documents.

Walthall allegedly then approached two inmates to execute the plot, which also included killing the prosecutors and two federal agents involved in his conviction. He is said to have offered up to $1 million per victim, according to court documents.

Those inmates later reported Walthall to the FBI.

The trial is being overseen by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, who handed down an additional 20 years — the maximum sentence — for one felony count of solicitation to commit a crime of violence in Walthall’s 2016 trial.

According to a March 14 court filing, defense attorney Charles Brown maintains that the two inmates who contacted the FBI to report the plot “actually entrapped and manipulated him in order to receive time off of their own prison sentences.”

Walthall has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles.

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