A former Laguna Beach resident was convicted Tuesday of attempting to arrange for the kidnapping and murders of a judge, two prosecutors and a pair of FBI agents.
John Arthur Walthall, 60, was convicted of soliciting the killing of U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford, who sentenced him to 14 years behind bars in a fraud case, and the others, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Sheppard. Walthall was scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 11.
Walthall’s second trial on a count of solicitation to commit a crime of violence — his first ended with a deadlocked jury — got off to a strange start.
Walthall was ordered out of the courtroom as his attorney was making his opening statement of the trial last Wednesday.
As his attorney made the case that his client had a penchant for bizarre conspiracy theories and was entrapped by a couple of jailhouse snitches, the defendant declared, “Enough! Enough of this. You are terminated.”
As U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney admonished Walthall to stop speaking, he replied, “Your honor, I terminate this man… This is a false defense… Is there anybody out there who can get me an attorney? Help me.”
After Carney had jurors removed from the courtroom, he told the attorneys in the case, “I was anticipating this would be a problem,” so he had a video monitor set up in a holding cell outside of the courtroom so Walthall could view the proceedings outside of the presence of the jury.
Walthall, who was serving a federal prison sentence for a gold investment scheme, was indicted in December 2014 for soliciting the killing of Guilford and the others. Walthall’s first trial in April ended with jurors deadlocked 10-2 for guilt.
Last Wednesday, wasn’t the first time Walthall has caused a scene in court.
At his April 30, 2012, sentencing, he bickered with the judge, tried to fire his attorney and ripped his fraud victims. At one point, Walthall’s son, Christopher, stood up and implored his father, “You have to stop.”
The latest case against Walthall centered around comments he made to fellow Lompoc inmates Crisanto Diego Trejos Ortiz and Antonio Rodriguez, as well as an undercover FBI agent, about hiring someone to abduct the judge and the others and kill them.
Walthall became suspicious of Ortiz at some point, Sheppard said.
“This defendant was getting pissed,” Sheppard said. “According to him, in his own words, Diego Ortiz was either a snitch or a bullshit artist and he might go the same way as the others.”
Rodriguez told Walthall he knew of a “middleman” who could help get the jobs done, Sheppard said, and that man was an undercover FBI agent. Walthall told the agent, “Above all else they need to die, but first I want them tortured,” according to Sheppard.
“Some of this may sound absolutely fantastical,” Sheppard said of the evidence.
Sheppard recounted for the jury how, while awaiting trial in the fraud case, the defendant jumped bail and fled to Nevada, where he was recaptured.
Before he jumped bail, he had a friend buy three guns for him, Sheppard said.
“When he said he wanted them dead he meant it,” the prosecutor said, adding that Walthall told the undercover agent, “Everything I’m asking you to do has been in the works for three years.”
“And it wasn’t because he didn’t know what he was saying,” Sheppard said, adding the defendant has not had a psychological diagnosis that he is suffering from a mental illness.
Walthall’s attorney, Tim Scott, portrayed Rodriguez and Ortiz as scam artists who had a long history of “double dealing” with authorities as confidential informants while still committing crimes.
The two hit up a couple of other inmates with an offer to get out of prison by having “something done” to their judge, but they refused, Scott said.
Walthall became an “outcast” in prison because he kept to himself and, when spoken to, he “would go off on one of his rants,” Scott said.
For Ortiz and Rodriguez, talking to Walthall was “just good fun and they enjoyed getting him going,” Scott said. “He would be off and running and they would elbow each other in the ribs.”
Then, “one day the light bulb went off and they realized John Walthall was their mark,” Scott said, alleging the two found out as much as they could about his client’s case and then “nursed” his conspiracy theories and “preyed on his paranoia.”
They got him to make incriminating statements so they could “play the hero” in the trial and get a break on their prison terms, Scott alleged.
One of the other inmates the two tried to con before Walthall warned the prison warden the pair was “framing” Walthall, but the prison official said, “It’s none of your concern and I have orders from above,” Scott told the jury.
“The government did not heed the warning of this man,” Scott said, arguing Walthall was “entrapped.”
–City News Service