N.J. officer in road-rage case says victim kept coming at him

As two men headed toward him on the side of a highway after a road-rage incident, Joseph Lamont Walker said, he drew his gun in hopes they would back off.

"I wanted to deter the situation. … Hopefully they would forget this and go about their business," Walker told jurors Friday in an Annapolis courtroom during his trial for first-degree murder.

When the man in front of him — later identified as Joseph Dale Harvey Jr. — didn't back down, Walker said, he shot him once. Walker turned toward the other man, Harvey's passenger Adam Pidel, who had stopped, so he chose not to shoot.

Walker, a New Jersey police officer, said he turned back to Harvey, saw he had advanced further and shot him two more times. Harvey was later pronounced dead at Baltimore Washington Medical Center.

Walker's version of events was laid out over about 90 minutes of testimony in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. He was calm on the witness stand and was direct in his answers to both defense attorney Charles N. Curlett Jr. and prosecutor Michael Dunty.

Dunty asked whether Walker had practiced his testimony and a courtroom demonstration of how far he was from the victim with his lawyers. Walker said he didn't.

The trial began Monday. The prosecution has said the June 2013 incident began when Walker's van drifted into Harvey's lane on a turn from Route 175 to Route 3 in Millersville. Dunty has argued that while Harvey did yell at Walker and called him a racial slur, he wasn't armed and didn't deserve to be shot on the side of the road.

Walker, 41, is African-American; Harvey, who was 36, was white.

Walker's attorneys are building a case for self-defense. Under their questioning, Walker and his wife, Marie, both testified that they feared for their lives as Harvey and Pidel came down the side of the road toward their van, where their three children were inside.

Walker said Friday that as the June 8, 2013, incident got under way, Harvey yelled at him from his car. Still driving, Walker said he waved his police badge from the Hudson County prosecutor's office toward Harvey's Honda, shouting: "Police! Keep moving!"

At one point, Walker heard a thump and thought something might have struck the passenger's side of his van while it was still moving. Defense attorneys previously showed the jury surveillance photos of Harvey and Pidel buying two energy drinks each at a Wawa, as well as police photos showing three energy drinks found in the car later.

Harvey's Honda then swerved in front of the van and came to a sudden stop, forcing Walker to brake hard and swerve to avoid a collision, Walker testified.

Walker said he was later able to get around the Honda and tried to avoid him. Eventually, Walker said, Harvey's Honda pushed his van off the side of the road, where he stopped.

"I was thinking this was done," Walker testified.

As he was checking his van for damage, Walker's wife yelled that the men were coming at them. Walker said he put his police training to use, first showing his badge and ordering the men to stop, then pulling out his gun when they didn't.

Asked why he didn't jump back in his van and drive away, Walker said: "I had a split second to make a decision."

Walker's version of events largely matched his wife's testimony from the day before. It conflicts with testimony from prosecution witnesses, including Pidel, who said Walker never said he was a police officer and never showed his badge.

Other witnesses said they saw Walker standing with his arms crossed as Harvey and Pidel approached, and said Harvey stopped before he was shot.

The trial is expected to last into next week.



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