Judge Eduardo Robreno today described Jeffrey Walker, the dirty cop-turned government cooperator, as a "truthful and credible" witness. What's more, the judge said, Walker's testimony withstood the "crucible" of cross-examination by a half-dozen skilled defense lawyers.
The jury, however, didn't see it that way on May 14th when they rejected Walker's testimony and acquitted six defendants on all 47 counts of a RICO indictment.
But an undeterred Judge Robreno approved a downward departure in the sentencing guidelines for Walker, and gave him 42 months in jail. The judge squared his findings that Walker was truthful and credible with the jury verdict by saying there was a difference between being found not guilty and being innocent.
Jeffrey Walker entered the courtroom wearing a beard, an olive green jumpsuit and handcuffs. He was there to be sentenced by the judge on one count of attempted robbery and one count of carrying a firearm in relation to committing a crime of violence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek, the big loser in that 47-0 massacre of a verdict, stood up and went through the crimes Walker had pleaded guilty to the day he was caught red-handed in a sting operation walking out of a drug dealer's house with a stolen $15,000.
Walker had planted drugs on the dealer and then arranged a police stop so the guy would get nailed, Wzorek said, while Walker was busy cleaning out the drug dealer's house. But the drug dealer turned out to be another FBI cooperator. Walker also lied to a judge to get him to sign a search warrant, Wzorek said.
Under the regular sentencing guidelines, Wzorek said, Walker was looking at a sentence of between 43 and 57 months before the judge granted a downward departure.
Wzorek went on to praise Walker's work as a cooperating witness. The day he was arrested in May 2013, the prosecutor said, Wallker "immediately admitted his own guilt." The prosecutor also praised Walker for breaking the "institutional code of silence" that prevailed in the Philadelphia Police Department. The defendant broke that code by admitting to crimes he had committed and implicating others, Wzorek said, meaning the defendants.
The prosecutor seemed to be forgetting that none of the jurors believed Walker.
Walker met with the feds between 30 and 40 times, Wzorek told the judge. Walker's testimony was very important in "providing an insider's view of what was going on in the Narcotics Field Unit," Wzorek said.
That's all great Tony, except once again you seem to be forgetting that the jury didn't believe a word Walker had to say.
Walker's testimony was "credible and reliable," Wzorek insisted to the judge. The prisoner has already served 26 months, Wzorek said. Besides always being honest with the feds, the prosecutor said, Walker had to contend with the illness of his sister, a cop, who died of cancer the day the jury reached their verdict.
"His cooperation was extraordinary," Wzorek told the judge about Walker. "So were his crimes."
Walker's supervisors failed to detect that Walker had been stealing on the job since he first became a cop at 19, the judge said. Walker's supervisors usually gave Walker good reviews, the judge said, telling him he was a "team player" and advising him to "keep up the good work."
When they found out that Walker had become a cooperating witness, the judge said, those same supervisors "conveniently" changed their opinion of Walker.
The judge then explained how he squared his finding that Walker had been "truthful and reliable" with the verdict of not guilty 47 times. To explain himself, Judge Robreno quoted the closing statement of defense lawyer Jack McMahon.
There is no verdict of innocent, McMahon had told the jury, according to the judge. There is only the quality and quantity of the evidence to consider, and whether the evidence was sufficient to prove a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
"The government has failed to prove" a verdict of guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," the judge concluded. So the jury reached the correct verdict, the judge said. But that doesn't mean "the defendants were innocent," the judge said.
Walker's lawyer, Thomas Fitzpatrick, said that Walker was a 20-year veteran of the police department who had "received several commendations for bravery." In his personal life, however, Walker had been divorced twice and had a drinking problem, Fitzpatrick said. When he became a cooperator, Walker's sister and ex-wife were still still cops, Fitzpatrick said. But Walker never faltered in his work as a witness.
Fitzpatrick conceded that Walker's crime was "a scheme for money." But the lawyer said, "in the depths of his remorse," Walker had confronted his past sins.
Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick said, the defendants are all free men. And they are feeling "so bold" that they just filed a defamation suit against the police commissioner and the mayor, Fitzpatrick said. [He forgot to mention the district attorney, the third defendant in the defamation suit].
"Jeffrey Walker is a good man," Fitzpatrick told the judge. He's "sincerely remorseful for the things he's done." Now, "he's trying to do the right thing," the lawyer said.
When it was his turn to speak, Walker told the judge, "I have no excuses."
He apologized for his crimes to the police commissioner, his co-workers, and to the community, while reaching for a Kleenex.
The day he was arrested, Walker told the judge, was a "turning point."
"Finally," he said, "I moved in the right direction."
"I've been messing up for so long," Walker said, wiping his eyes before he really started crying. "I know I've messed up."
In announcing his sentence, Judge Robreno said the rogue cops trial had been a "difficult case." About the government, he said, "They took a risk" in prosecuting a case where the victims were a bunch of "drug dealers."
It was Jeffrey Walker's cooperation, the judge said, "that made the filing of the case possible." The "bottom line," the judge said, was that "without Jeffrey Walker there would be no case." And without this case, the judge said, the community wouldn't have gotten an inside look at the work of the Narcotics Field Unit.
The judge did not mention the inside look the case provided at the work of the FBI, which didn't bother to interview a dozen police eyewitnesses to the alleged episodes of misconduct before the indictment was filed. Or the work of the U.S. Attorney's Office, which failed to provide any corroboration for the accusations of the drug dealers.
Ralph Cipriano can be reached at email@example.com.