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Bail is set for woman who posed as lost child

In a case that riveted the national media this week, a judge yesterday set $100,000 bail for a woman who gave an Indiana family hope that their long-lost child had been found, only to dash it days later.

Despite yesterday's televised court hearing and intense media scrutiny about the woman's past medical and legal problems, questions remain about Donna Lynette Walker's motives for calling the Sherrill family last weekend and posing as their daughter, who disappeared almost 17 years ago.

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Walker turned herself in Thursday to Kansas authorities, who arrested her on charges of identity deception, a felony, and false information, a misdemeanor. She is being held in Topeka, Kan.

Police investigators do not believe money was an issue when Walker contacted Dorothy Sherrill on July 26 and said she thought she might be her daughter, Shannon Marie, who disappeared in 1986.

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During the next few days, Walker also called the police and numerous media outlets. By Wednesday, when authorities called a news conference, the story had been widely reported.

But at the press conference, police revealed that the incident was what one investigator called a "cruel hoax." Walker, 35, had "no connection to the case," said Indiana State Police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten, who led the investigation.

As details were released, the case got even stranger. Walker had gone so far as to impersonate two additional people, including a man, while talking to the Sherrills.

Court documents show that when Walker called Dorothy Sherrill, she said her name was Beth Harris and gave Sherrill a summation of the past 17 years of her life, including a fictitious husband, address and family. She told detectives that she had memories of her childhood in Indiana and gave them an address, Social Security number and phone numbers.

When none of that information checked out and Walker failed to show up for DNA tests, detectives started to dig further. They called an FBI agent in Oregon whom Walker mentioned in the interviews, and found out that she had helped the agent in the past with both good information and false leads in child pornography and pedophilia cases.

Indiana State Police Detective Jeff Heck also obtained information from Virginia police that showed Walker had been arrested several times in Virginia Beach, according to a court hearing.

During the hearing to establish probable cause for Walker's arrest, Heck said that during one of his conversations with "Beth Harris," she seemed to think she was Shannon Marie.

In her only public statements, Walker told ABC that she was trying to "help the investigation and certainly not hinder it in any way."

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Judge Thomas Conkilin set Walker's next court date for Wednesday. He said the high bail was set in part because she poses a flight risk.

The combined charges carry up to four years in jail and $15,000 in fines. Indiana authorities expect to be able to extradite Walker from Kansas to stand trial, Bursten said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


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