A man who pleaded guilty to killing his neighbor with a frying pan was sentenced to 22 years in prison Friday as part of a plea deal, to the victim’s family’s dismay.
Valerie McMullin has become disillusioned with the justice system since her son, Wilbur Tankersley, was murdered in May 2020.
McMullin learned her son died through a news article rather than from authorities, she said after the sentencing. When she confirmed her son was dead through the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office, they told her she could not see his body.
She later learned through court documents that the man who confessed to killing her son – Cameron Walker, now 25 – had called police earlier in the night about a fight with her son and admitted to punching Tankersley several times, though police did not arrest Walker.
Walker confessed to beating Tankersley “until his soul left his body” on the night of the murder. His defense attorney, Jeff Leslie, said he would have argued for self-defense if they had gone to trial because Tankersley and Walker had a physical fight before the killing, though Leslie said he doubted a jury would have agreed that killing Tankersley was warranted. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder instead.
Leslie said Walker would not admit to it himself, but a psychologist had determined it highly likely that Walker has schizophrenia. Walker’s adopted mother, Angela Walker, told the judge their family had tried to get Walker help many times.
McMullin told Judge Harold Clarke that her family “unanimously and vehemently” opposed the plea deal as soon as prosecutors alerted them of the possibility, but they felt they had no choice in the matter.
Tankersley’s cousin, Ramona Ann Smitch, read a statement from Tankersley’s grandparents to Clarke. They asked for the death penalty.
“My cousin has taken a frying pan and beat it on the cement trying to understand,” Smitch told Clarke after finishing the statement. “None of us can imagine the horror and the horrific way he passed.”
Tankersley’s sister, Crystalyn Noel Garrity, asked the judge to give Walker a minimum of 36 years, the age her brother was when he died.
“The danger this man could inflict on another individual does not deserve to be chanced,” Garrity said.
Clarke agreed with the prosecution’s recommended sentence of 264 months, based partly on Walker’s lack of a criminal history prior to the murder. He had no prior felonies in the state.
Smitch shook her head outside the courtroom Friday after the decision.
“Devastating,” Smitch said.
Tankersley struggled with schizophrenia but was in treatment at the time he died, McMullin said after the hearing. Walker and Tankersley were living in a building for low-income tenants at 240 W. Sprague Avenue. McMullin said, after all she’d seen, it seemed police, prosecutors and Clarke didn’t see much value in her son’s life.
“I guess he just wasn’t important enough to them,” McMullin said.