July 8, 1995 in Nation/World

Man With Aids Says Lover Knew

William Miller Staff writer
 

For a man cast as a villain, he is hard to hate.

It is hard even to look at Jeffrey Douglas Walker, accused of attempted murder for exposing his girlfriend to AIDS.

Not long ago, he was a muscular construction worker with long blond hair. He wore a black leather jacket, straddled a motorcycle, charmed women.

Now he is gaunt with sunken cheeks, tired eyes and a painful shuffle to his walk. He requires around-the-clock nursing. His memory is evaporating.

Walker’s trial is scheduled for October, but he doubts he’ll live that long. AIDS is rapidly taking its toll.

His former Spokane Valley girlfriend, meanwhile, awaits her own death sentence. Susan Wyatt, 43, claims her lover didn’t tell her he had contracted the virus that causes AIDS until he was hospitalized in 1992.

By then, she said, it was too late. They had unprotected sex numerous times. Months later, she tested HIV-positive.

While Wyatt has been outspoken, Walker has said nothing since his arrest early last year.

His silence ended abruptly Friday afternoon. Flanked by his mother and attorneys in a North Side law office, he told The Spokesman-Review his side of the story.

“It seems only fair,” he said.

Walker, 28, expressed sympathy for Wyatt, saying he never intended to cause her harm.

But Wyatt, he maintains, was aware of his HIV status and of the danger it posed. And she was willing to take her chances in bed.

“She knew right away,” he said. “She knew before we ever did anything.”

He said he wanted to use a condom to prevent transmission of the disease, but she insisted otherwise.

“It was a constant fight between us,” he said.

Walker spoke haltingly and was easily confused, asking several times that simple questions be repeated.

He ended the interview with this statement:

“I never meant to hurt anybody. I don’t understand why she’s doing this. It seems as though it took both of us to do this …”

Attempts to reach Wyatt on Friday were unsuccessful.

Walker said he doesn’t know how he contracted AIDS. It could have been through dirty drug needles, or through sex.

He met Wyatt in August 1992 after getting released from prison. He served a 21-month sentence for selling black-tar heroin.

Walker, who first tested HIV-positive in 1991, was repeatedly counseled by probation officers and doctors about transmission of the virus, the importance of practicing safe sex, and the urgent need to tell his girlfriend that he’s a carrier.

They claim he failed to warn Wyatt before sex, and he admitted so.

Walker is the first person in Washington to be charged with attempted murder for exposing someone to AIDS. If convicted, he faces a 20-year prison sentence.

But the case may not make it to trial.

A critical three-day hearing starts Monday in Spokane County Superior Court, with experts on both sides expected to offer conflicting opinions as to Walker’s fitness to assist in his defense.

Since his arrest, Walker has undergone brain scans and a battery of psychological examinations.

Lawyers L. Neil Axtell and Dana Kelley will argue that their client suffers from severe AIDS dementia.

Defense experts will testify that Walker’s IQ has plunged over the past six years, with the most significant drop over the past year. He is no longer capable of holding a job or caring for himself, according to one expert.

Walker shares a Spokane Valley home with his mother, a nurse who cares for him, feeding him through a tube and administering daily doses of medications.

Prosecutor Jim Sweetser will counter with a psychiatrist and two psychologists who discount the severity of the brain damage.

After hearing the testimony, Judge Richard Schroeder will decide whether Walker is competent to stand trial.

In order to convict the defendant of attempted murder, the prosecution must prove he used his virus as a deadly weapon, taking a “substantial step” toward trying to kill his girlfriend.

Sweetser accuses Walker of “poisoning another human being.”

Axtell is morally outraged by the charge. “It isn’t humane,” he said. “God has already sentenced this man to death.”

The Spokane County AIDS Network has had dealings with both Walker and Wyatt. But the support group is taking no official stance in the attempted-murder case.

Executive Director Ginger Goble said intentionally exposing someone to AIDS is “very, very wrong and should be illegal.”

But she cautioned that it is often difficult in such cases to determine which of the lovers is telling the truth.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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