How Vashon Walker went from car thief to alleged murderer

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comJune 28, 2014 

Vashon Walker

In seven years, 23-year-old Vashon Londell Walker went from teen car thief to alleged murderer.

Today he's in the Muscogee County Jail, accused of shooting his live-in girlfriend Jessica Osborne in the head June 17 at the 4304 Forrest Road home the couple was to share with the 28-year-old Osborne's three children.

Walker and his 21-year-old brother, Xzavier Walker, also face charges of aggravated battery for allegedly pistol-whipping a 35-year-old man around 1 a.m. May 31 on Paris Drive. Police said witnesses told them the brothers had been firing the gun in the neighborhood, where Walker also intimidated a woman trying to get into her car.

This is not Walker's first stint in the county jail, and if convicted of his current charges, he won't be entering the Georgia prison system for the first time, either.

How did the former Carver High School student's life lead to this?

Court records show that since his teens, Walker had a record primarily involving auto theft -- starting with a confrontation in Hilton Heights where a couple fought Walker to keep a friend of his from stealing their Chevy Tahoe, followed just a day later by Walker and the same friend stealing a church van.

Until then, authorities reported, the juvenile court had no contact with Walker.

Following Walker's arrest in Columbus' 11th homicide of 2014, the Ledger-Enquirer retraced his court record to see how a 16-year-old thief got to be a homicide suspect at age 23.

August 2007

Six black teen boys walking through Columbus' predominantly white, upper-class Hilton Heights neighborhood were bound to draw notice, in the summer of 2007.

The residents were on edge because of home and car burglaries. By 3:30 p.m. Aug. 24, someone called the police about the boys. A patrol officer collected the teenagers' identification on field interview cards.

Around 5 p.m. the same group, split into sets of three, walked by a home on Slate Drive, where a couple in their 40s, dressed for a social event, were awaiting a babysitter. Through their front window they watched the boys go by.

It was hot out, so the husband had his Chevy Tahoe running in the driveway, with the air conditioner on.

Abruptly one teen from the last set passing peeled off, sprinted to the Tahoe and hopped in the driver's seat, where he discovered the ignition was keyless. Inside the house, the husband used his remote key to lock the thief inside the vehicle.

The teen got on his back and tried to kick out the passenger's side window. The owner ran outside, dragged the kid out, punched him twice and held him to the ground. The two boys who'd been with the kid came dashing to his rescue. One of them was Vashon Walker.

The wife fended them off as they swung and cursed at her. In the scuffle, they bumped an urn, a heavy two-piece iron planter, and the top came off. Walker picked it up and threw it at the couple. It grazed the wife, according to police.

The other accomplice, 16-year-old Octavious Ford, then picked the urn up and threw it at the husband, who dodged as he released the thief, a 15-year-old named Thaddeus Washington.

Last week the man and wife recalled that day seven years ago, saying they had not recognized Vashon Walker's name when they heard about his girlfriend's homicide on the news.

But they remembered him, a kid in a white T-shirt and do-rag.

They recalled three peculiar details. The wife was barefoot, in no hurry to don cowboy boots for the Western-style event they were off to, and she was drinking a glass of red wine, which she took outside with her when the trouble started.

She carefully set the glass down before confronting the boys coming after her husband. Asked why she didn't cast the wine into one of the boy's faces, she said she thought that would be rude -- decorum in retrospect seeming an odd priority, under the circumstances.

Also she recalled that as she struggled with Walker, she at one point had him only by his T-shirt. "Don't tear my shirt!" he shouted, as if it was too valuable an asset to damage during a fight.

A third detail the wife recalled was the confusion on Walker's face, as if he wondered: Why were these people fighting back? They never fought back. They just called the cops.

The boys got away, that Friday. And two of them the next day went on to steal a church van in Midtown, near the library.

According to accomplice Tevin Gary, then 14 -- a Carver classmate who like Walker would be a future murder suspect -- he, Walker, Washington and Louis Fudge took the 2004 Ford Econoline van from Christ Community Church on Midtown Drive after Washington got in and "popped the ignition."

A police officer saw it speeding the following Monday at Rigdon Road and Ninth Street and noticed as he turned his patrol car around that three black teens left the van and ran as the driver sped away. A brief chase ended when the van spun out, hit a utility pole and then a house on Baldwin Street.

Gary later told police he, Walker and Fudge were the three who ran from the van. The driver was Toronald Jones. All were charged with auto theft.

On Aug. 28, 2007, detectives investigating the Slate Drive incident questioned Ford, the second teen to throw the urn. He said he knew one accomplice only by the nickname "Pooh." In a 2007 Carver yearbook, he pointed out Walker.

The grandmother raising Walker brought him in the next day. He admitted his involvement, but said nothing else, police reported.

The evidence was damning. Because of the Hilton Heights break-ins, residents were installing security cameras. The entire Slate Drive escapade was caught on video.

All three juveniles were charged with aggravated assault and second-degree criminal damage to property, and sent off to the YDC, a common reference for the Columbus Regional Youth Detention Center later named for the late Judge Aaron Cohn.

The juvenile court complaint against Walker listed two counts of aggravated assault, one each for the husband and the wife, one count of damaging property for the broken urn and another of auto theft for helping steal the church van.

Flash forward

Tevin Gary's part of this story ends here, but he would be among five suspects charged with murder in a Nov. 9, 2010, misdirected home invasion on Old Buena Vista Road, where a shotgun blast through a door took off 52-year-old Kelley Leggett's forehead as he tried to bar the intruders' entry.

A barrage of gunfire followed, wounding Leggett's brother and girlfriend as they cowered on the floor.

Later testimony would show the suspects were supposed to have robbed two women with a stash of drugs and cash in another apartment. They'd gone to the wrong place.

In 2013, at age 20, Tevin Gary was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 10 on probation for conspiracy to commit robbery and theft by receiving stolen property. He made a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.

Revelations in 2008

In 2008, the grandparents raising Walker sought child support for him and his 15-year-old brother Xzavier. The grandmother was 71, her husband 67.

They sought support from a Decatur Street man who accepted paternity for the younger brother but not the elder. A paternity test proved him correct, records show.

Vashon Walker's mother, Tawaner Louise Walker, went off to prison when he was 3 years old.

She was convicted of aggravated assault for shooting a woman in the leg with a .38-caliber handgun on Sept. 5, 1994. Sentenced to six years in prison with four on probation, she was sent off to the Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville. She started her sentence Feb. 13, 1996.

She was released on May 25, 1999.

On Aug. 21, 2002, her probation officer alleged she violated her conditions of release by testing positive for cocaine on April 10, May 9, and June 9 of that year, by failing to look for work and by failing to pay probation fees. She was ordered to serve six to eight months in a women's detention center.

Included in her court records is a handwritten letter she wrote a Superior Court judge on Dec. 22, 2002, telling him she had learned her lesson and had family who needed her.

"I have four children out there in the care of my family," she wrote. "I also have a grandmother who I use to care about and takes dialysis three times a week. She has been back and forth to the hospital due to the tube in her arm keeps getting clogged up. … All I am asking is to see fit for me to go home early and get my kids and look after my grandmother."

Vashon Walker's grandmother later sought child support from Tawaner Walker for those four children, listing their noncustodial parents as Tawaner Walker and "multiple father." Besides Vashon and brother Xzavier, the filing listed younger siblings born in 1994 and 2000.

Path to prison

The heat was back on Vashon Walker in the summer of 2008.

Court records show he was indicted on these charges:

• Burglary for breaking into a Crestview Drive home on June 15, 2008, with an accomplice named Paris Person.

• Theft by receiving stolen property, for that same day obtaining a 2007 GMC Yukon, also with Person.

• Theft by receiving stolen property for on July 1, 2008, obtaining a 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer belonging to Kia Auto Sport.

• Theft by receiving stolen property for on July 13, 2008, obtaining a 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer belonging to another individual.

Walker was 17, no longer a juvenile under Georgia law. This time he would go to prison, not to the YDC.

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, Walker on April 16, 2009, began serving time for burglary and two counts of theft by receiving stolen property. Though sentenced to 10 years, he got three years to serve and credit for time spent in the county jail. He was released May 24, 2011.

His brushes with the law shifted more toward domestic disputes with a girlfriend, and that led to another strange twist in his tale.

Charges recanted

During the summer of 2012, Walker had an ex-girlfriend who with two friends reported to police that Walker had threatened them, thrown a bottle at one, and held his ex-girlfriend against her will.

Then they recanted, and said what they'd told police wasn't true. Each was charged, and fined, for falsely reporting a crime.

Yet Walker still was arrested on their allegations and held for months in jail also for violating parole -- until his bonds were lowered to what he could afford.

Walker's ex-girlfriend then was 20. The other two women were ages 19 and 45.

According to their indictments for false crime reports:

• The 19-year-old on March 17, 2012, said Walker sent her threatening messages, threatened her with a gun and threw a bottle through a window at her.

• The 45-year-old that same day told police Walker threatened her family and threw a bottle through a window at her daughter.

• Walker's ex-girlfriend said on July 24, 2012, that Walker kidnapped and falsely imprisoned her.

Their warrants, issued in August 2012, state they recanted their complaints during hearings in Columbus Recorder's Court.

Yet on Sept. 13, 2013, Walker was booked into the Muscogee County Jail on charges of false imprisonment and aggravated assault. A probation violation charge was added five days later.

On Sept. 27, 2013, his ex-girlfriend and her associates pleaded guilty to falsely reporting a crime. Each was fined $100 and given a year's probation.

When Walker remained in jail more than 90 days without an indictment, defense attorneys sought to lower his bonds.

On Jan. 10, 2014, attorney Michael Eddings filed a motion noting Walker was being held without bond for aggravated assault and violating parole, and a $30,000 bond for false imprisonment.

Eddings listed these reasons to lower those bonds:

• "The victim in this matter is the defendant's former girlfriend who was upset with him for terminating their relationship and for dating another person. She retaliated against the defendant out of anger and other emotions and made a false police report. …"

• "The victim in this case provided an affidavit stating defendant did not commit the offenses stated herein."

• "The state has no witnesses that could establish the defendant committed the alleged offenses."

• "Defendant was gainfully employed and … has been fully complying with the terms of his probation, which has been corroborated by his probation officer."

After Eddings, attorney Michael Garner took Walker's case. He said prosecutors simply were unaware that the women had pleaded guilty to filing false police reports.

He contacted Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly, who agreed Walker's bonds should be dropped.

Garner said he showed Kelly the women's convictions.

"Don, the way I remember it, he called me back the next day, and gave us a substantial bond reduction, and we got him out of jail," Garner said.

Kelly said Friday that he was unaware of the women's false-reporting convictions because those misdemeanors went through State Court, where the solicitor general is the prosecutor, and not Superior Court, where the district attorney represents the state. But the primary issue was that Walker's former girlfriend had filed an affidavit declining to prosecute, he said, and that justified lowering the bonds.

The charges still were pending, though, because Kelly was trying to reach the ex-girlfriend to ask whether what she alleged never happened, or it happened but she didn't want to pursue it.

In the latter instance the state still could press the case. Kelly said he at least would have presented it to a grand jury, which could have declined to indict Walker, ending the prosecution.

On March 17, a judge lowered Walker's bonds to $1,500 for aggravated assault, $1,500 for false imprisonment and $1,000 for violating parole. He got out of jail that day.

Garner said the experience had a significant impact on Walker's demeanor, setting him on edge. When Walker learned weeks later he and his brother were wanted for aggravated battery, he maintained his innocence, and claimed he was about to be falsely accused again.

"Right before this girl was killed," Garner said of Osborne, "Vashon was all upset about some charges against him and his brother, aggravated battery."

Walker called Garner and two other attorneys looking for help.

"It kind of shows the state of mind he was in, that he was just that agitated about the situation," Garner said. "He was just upset about that, because he was adamant that he did not do this, and see, he had just been put in jail for something he didn't do, and sat there for months, and now he's afraid, 'This is going to happen to me again.'"

Garner said attorneys at one point considered having Walker undergo a psychological evaluation to gauge his state of mind.

The final weeks

On May 19, Walker's ex-girlfriend filed for court protection to keep Walker away from her and her 4-year-old child.

Among her allegations were that Walker "choked, punched, kicked, slapped, shot at, choked with trash bags, stalked, harassed" her.

Between the time of her complaint and a court hearing on her allegations came May 31, the morning Walker and his younger brother were alleged to have prowled Paris Drive at Brown Avenue, firing a gun and breaking a man's jaw as they pistol-whipped him around 1 a.m.

Then came a June 3 Superior Court hearing, where Vashon Walker's ex-girlfriend was granted protection through a restraining order in force against Walker until Dec. 2.

He was ordered to stay 1,000 yards away from the woman and her child, to not visit her home, her workplace, or her child's school, and to have no communication with them via mail, telephone or online, not even through a third party.

On June 9, Walker's new girlfriend Jessica Osborne posted a video online of her new home on Forrest Road, to which she moved with her children from Meridian, Miss., to live with Walker.

At 7:40 p.m. June 17, she was pronounced dead there from a gunshot wound to the head.

Walker, with blood on his pants and shirt, claimed an intruder killed her. Police said the house was in disarray, and a TV set had toppled onto the floor.

During a preliminary hearing in Columbus Recorder's Court on June 21, detectives said Walker told them he was outside the house when he heard a commotion inside after Osborne came home. He went in and confronted an intruder, and several shots were fired before the intruder fled, he said.

Investigators found a gun in the yard, which Walker denied owning, noting he was a convicted felon who by law couldn't have a gun. Police said they also found shell casings in the house and in a 2007 Chrysler Sebring parked out front.

They said text messages on Osborne's phone showed she felt she needed to move back to Meridian with her daughters, ages 2, 7 and 9.

After her death, Osborne's family and friends in Meridian held fundraisers to pay her funeral expenses. Relatives said they will care for the three young girls who have lost their mother.

Vashon Walker, meanwhile, is again being held without bond in the county jail.

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