A plea deal is in jeopardy for a woman who admitted to conspiring with her Army medic lover to kill his wife while she slept in Honolulu military housing.
The judge in the case ruled this week that she’s not ready to accept or reject the deal Ailsa Jackson made with prosecutors to testify against Sgt. Michael Walker in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Both the prosecution and the defense urged the judge to approve the deal. They agree Jackson’s testimony will provide context to the sordid details laid out in text messages and emails of the lovers plotting the murder.
Prosecutors worry that without her testimony it will be more difficult to win a murder conviction for the 2014 stabbing death of his wife, Catherine Walker. Defense attorneys want the deal secured to ensure she gets something in return for testifying.
But U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway wants to make a decision about the deal after she knows everything that has been revealed during Walker’s trial, which is scheduled for August.
At a hearing earlier this week, Mollway expressed various concerns about the deal, including the “narrow range” of the negotiated sentence: 30 to 33 years. If Mollway learns something that would warrant deviating from that range, “I’d be hamstrung,” she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Brady tried to assure the judge that if Jackson’s testimony comes with any surprises, the deal is off.
Mollway likened the situation to a deal struck in a death penalty case involving the fatal beating of a 5-year-old girl. The child’s stepmother, Delilah Williams, received a 20-year sentence in exchange for testifying against her husband.
Her testimony revealed horrible acts she also committed against the child.
Brady said Jackson’s deal is different because prosecutors have talked to Jackson at length and are confident there’s no question she was the one who killed Catherine Walker.
“The government has learned from the Williams case,” federal public defender Alexander Silvert said, noting that defense attorneys weren’t able to get the same 20-year deal for Jackson that they negotiated for Williams. In the Williams deal. prosecutors only had a “general understanding” of what she did, Silvert told Mollway.
Mollway is smart to wait, said Kenneth Lawson, who teaches criminal law at University of Hawaii’s law school. In some plea deals, the co-defendant who committed the worst parts of the crime can receive a lighter sentence than the co-defendant who played a lessor role, he said.
“A lot of judges after seeing what’s going on in the system have been more active in plea deals,” he said. “If you’re going to be convicted, let it be on good solid testimony and not on testimony that’s been purchased in exchange for freedom.”
Defense attorneys now need to decide if Jackson will testify and hope that the deal goes through as negotiated, or go to trial herself and risk a life sentence.
If Jackson goes to trial, the statements she made during her guilty-plea hearing — that she stabbed Catherine Walker and waited 30 minutes to make sure she was dead while Michael Walker was at work — can’t be used against her unless she takes the stand and makes contradictory statements, Lawson said.
Walker and Jackson discussed making his wife’s death look like a burglary, she said in court.
After meeting through an online dating site, Walker told Jackson he was married and that his “deepest desire” was to have his wife gone, but he couldn’t divorce her, prosecutors said.
The affair was purely sexual, and Walker didn’t want his wife killed, said his defense attorney, Birney Bervar.
“Ms. Jackson has admitted to the murder,” Bervar said. “She did it, and the government has tried to cut a deal with her to try to put the finger on my client.”