A Burlingame man with a history of intoxicated driving offenses was properly convicted of second-degree murder in the 2009 crash that wrapped his car around an eucalyptus tree and killed his passenger, an appellate court ruled.
Bruce Alan Walker Jr., 38, is serving 15 years to life in prison for the April 11, 2009, death of Daniel James White in the single-car collision at Howard Avenue and El Camino Real. A jury in his first 2010 trial convicted him of vehicular manslaughter but hung 9-3 on guilt of the murder count. A second jury came back with murder after a trial in which the prosecution showed Walker competed two different DUI offender programs, was out on bail in a Wisconsin DUI case and even had his keys removed from a friend the night he decided to drive.
Walker argued in his appeal that the second jury should have learned of the earlier conviction rather than be left feeling like it had an all-or-nothing choice between acquittal and guilty of murder. The appeal also argued that at least one juror only convicted White of murder out of concern he might re-offend and not feeling there was another option.
In its opinion issued this week, the First Appellate District Court upheld Walker’s conviction and concluded jurors properly felt that he “knew the dangers of drinking and driving and it did not deter him.”
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said his office is “very, very pleased” with the court’s ruling.
Walker’s appeal argued that jurors were given confusing instructions about the implied malice required to convict on the murder charge.
Defense attorney Geoff Carr, who represented Walker during his two trials, said he was most troubled that the appellate court was unswayed on the argument that the jury was given two different common definitions of “deliberate” within the legal instructions.
“There’s a fiction involved that a jury is supposed to know which dictionary to use, mine or [prosecutor Joe Cannon],” Carr said.
The appeal also claimed Walker’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated because the blood test showing his .20 alcohol level was taken without a warrant.
After Walker was hospitalized following the crash of his silver Infiniti M45, he first replied “whatever” when told a blood sample was required but changed his mind and declined after learning White died. A phlebotomist took the blood while Walker slept in the trauma room. The blood test also indicated Walker had used cocaine within six to eight hours of the draw.
Earlier that night, Walker’s ex-girlfriend and her family met him for dinner at Broadway Prime and as they left took his car keys, handing them to White. Walker told the woman he was going to meet some friends.
During trial, the jury also heard of several prior DUI incidents involving Walker including a February 2001 arrest in Burlingame for which he was convicted and a February 2009 Wisconsin collision for which he was on bail. In that case, police found Walker in a restaurant parking lot loading luggage from a damaged car into a taxi after the crash. That case was dismissed after his prosecution in the newest San Mateo County case.
After the 2010 mistrial, prosecutors announced plans to retry Walker after he declined to take a plea deal for roughly 12 years in prison and waiving his right to appeal.
Following the trial, Carr argued for a new trial because one juror who had been excused for conducting her own Internet research informed the court that if the jury knew of his earlier manslaughter conviction “there is absolutely no way that he would have been convicted of second-degree murder by this jury.”
The trial judge found the one juror’s comments less reliable than the foreperson who disagreed with the account and had previously alerted the court to her improper Google search. Appellate court judges agreed on their own that the juror’s remarks would not have changed the outcome.
The “fleeting” comments were “innocuous and insignificant compared with the credible evidence ... that [Walker] drank excessive amounts of alcohol before getting in his car and driving recklessly on El Camino with conscious disregard of the danger to life his conduct posed,” Judge Robert Dondero wrote.
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