Defense witnesses offer different accounts of fatal road-rage shooting

For Marie Walker, June 8, 2013 was the worst day of her life.

Riding with her husband and children home to New Jersey after a family birthday party, she was jolted by hearing a torrent of yelling from the car next to her.

In the moments that followed, her husband, Joseph Lamont Walker, swerved to avoid being hit by the other car, whose driver sped and tried to run their minivan off the road, Marie Walker told jurors in an Annapolis courtroom Thursday.

Joseph Walker, 41, is on trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court for first-degree murder, accused of fatally shooting the other driver, Joseph Dale Harvey Jr., on the side of the road after their road-rage battle along Route 3 north near the merge to Interstate 97 last summer.

Marie Walker testified as a witness for the defense team, which is attempting to prove Joseph Walker shot Harvey because he was trying to protect himself and his family.

Under questioning from defense attorney Michael T. Cornacchia, Marie Walker was clear in recounting the night's events, including her husband flashing his police badge and telling the other driver: "I'm a police officer! Keep it moving!"

Joseph Walker is a detective with the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office in New Jersey.

Marie Walker also recalled hearing a thump as something apparently hit her van and remembered the other driver threatening to kill her husband and calling him a racial slur.

Under cross-examination from prosecutor Michael Dunty, Marie Walker was less clear about some events. She couldn't say which lanes the vehicles were in or identify how far apart Harvey and his passenger were as they approached the Walker van on the side of the road.

When asked if the cars were driving closer to 5 mph or 50 mph, a flustered Marie Walker said: "This was the worst day of my life. We were all shooken up. I don't know."

Marie Walker also acknowledged she did not call 911 until her husband instructed her to moments before the shooting. She didn't appear to connect to 911 until after the shooting.

Defense attorneys also questioned a witness who was in a passing car and described Harvey as the aggressor in the road-rage battle between the two cars.

Dunty attempted to discredit that witness, William Pettie Jr., by producing a letter Pettie wrote to the Anne Arundel County State's Attorney's Office recanting his testimony due to mental illness and his own criminal history. Pettie admitted under Dunty's questioning that he made up a bogus tale of mental illness to try to get out of testifying. He said he had a change of heart about testifying after praying about it.

So far, Joseph Walker has not testified, though his attorneys questioned a police officer who heard Walker's version of events that night.

Anne Arundel County Police Cpl. Robert Henry said Walker told him that Harvey cut him off first, forcing his minivan onto the shoulder. Once both vehicles pulled off on the side of the highway, Walker told the corporal that Harvey "charged" at him, and that's when he fired his gun.

Dunty's prosecution witnesses, including Harvey's passenger, earlier described the incident starting with Walker drifting into Harvey's lane. Those witnesses said that once the vehicles were on the side of the road, Harvey aggressively walked toward Walker, but he stopped before he was shot. Harvey, 36, was pronounced dead at Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie.

Before testimony began on Thursday, Judge Michael Wachs denied a request from the defense for a judgement of acquittal. The trial, which began Monday, is expected to last into next week.

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