Convicted Dunbar Village rapist sentenced to 60 years in prison
Updated: 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011 | Posted: 7:48 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011
By Daphne Duret
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
WEST PALM BEACH – By all accounts, Nathan Walker started out in life with little chance to make it.
Raised in extreme poverty in a violent neighborhood, by the time he was 16 he became one of several young men implicated in one of the most heinous local crimes in recent history – the brutal gang rape and forced incest of a mother and son inside the Dunbar Village housing project.
Walker had already begun serving a life sentence in prison for the crime last year when U.S. Supreme Court justices mentioned him by name in a court ruling declaring Florida courts were unconstitutional in sentencing juveniles to life in prison for crimes other than murder.
The ruling cleared the way for a new sentencing hearing Wednesday, one that Walker’s attorney and relatives hoped would give him a chance, if only for a couple decades, to live in freedom.
What Circuit Judge Krista Marx gave him, however, was 60 years – just about the closest sentence to life she could fashion without disregarding the high court ruling.
Walker will likely get out in 51 years – at age 71. Prosecutors told Marx that Walker’s life expectancy is 72.
“I have never doubted for a second that the appropriate sentence is life,” Marx said. “But I’m not going to go against the court’s ruling.”
Walker’s mother, Ruby, burst into tears as soon as she heard the new sentence. Both she and Walker’s father, Nathan Walker, Sr., rushed from the hearing without comment.
Their son had mentioned them both as he testified Wednesday, saying they sent him letters telling him to keep his head up. His father had apologized for not being the father he needed. His mother sent him money and told him to trust in God.
Attorneys, meanwhile, spent Wednesday debating Walker’s fate in light of the Supreme Court ruling, which in essence said sending juveniles to life in prison with no chance for parole on crimes like carjacking and rape constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
The hearing marked the first time in a local case that a juvenile was resentenced because of the high court’s ruling.
The court’s decision mentioned Walker and another Dunbar defendant, saying that though they may deserve to be locked up for life, they should at some point have a chance to prove that they have been rehabilitated.
What the court’s ruling ignored, Marx said, is that there is no parole in Florida, which left her no way to give Walker a sentence that would give him an opportunity for early release. The judge suggested legislators reinstate parole – eliminated in 1983 – if only for cases like Walker’s.
Assistant State Attorneys Aleathea McRoberts and Terri Skiles along with Celia Terenzio from the Florida’s Attorney General’s Office took turns telling Marx that a more than 50-year sentence would satisfy the court’s ruling that punishments in cases like Walker’s give juveniles a “meaningful opportunity for release.”
“That doesn’t mean he is guaranteed release,” McRoberts said.
Prosecutors pointed to the severity of the crimes, the details of which Marx said she still remembered Wednesday.
The then 35-year-old victim said as many as 10 men forced their way inside her home and took terms raping her and assaulting her with guns and bottles as they beat her 12-year-old son.
At some point the group forced mother and son in a bathtub together, forced them to have sex with one another, and doused them with cleaning products as they searched for a lighter to set them on fire.
Walker’s attorney, Robert Gershman, said Walker has been portrayed too harshly, asking for a 22-year sentence while telling Marx that others charged in the case were much more culpable.
“Anything is better than life in there for sure,” Gershman said after the sentencing. “I respect the court’s ruling, but I think he deserved some time outside the box.”
Marx in her statements reiterated her thoughts from the first sentencing hearing, saying that as tragic an upbringing Walker had, it did not overcome the brutality in which he participated.
During his testimony, Walker told Marx that while in prison, his limited vocabulary and reading skills had improved to the point the was understanding more from the books he read, which were mostly self-help. Hard as it was, he said, he had adapted to prison life.
“It can drive you crazy, make you do things you never thought you would do, but that’s only if you let it,” he said of prison. “I just try not to get into any of those kinds of things.”
Another defendant in the Dunbar Village case, Jakaris Taylor, who also was a juvenile at the time, is eligible to be resentenced under Supreme Court ruling, though no new sentencing date has been set.
The two other men convicted in the attack, Tommy Poindexter and Avion Lawson, were unaffected by the ruling.
Poindexter was also sentenced to life in prison but was 18 at the time of the crime – something Marx said disturbed her because he was older than some other defendants only by a matter of months. Lawson was a juvenile, but he cooperated with investigators in the case and received a 30-year sentence.
UPDATED: 5:34 pm EDT September 18, 2009
Aug 27, 2009 1:57 PM CDTThursday, August 27, 2009 2:57 PM EST
WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) – Prosecutors have decided not to ask a 14-year-old boy to testify in the Dunbar Village rape case. He and his mother were raped and brutalized in the attacks.
Because of his mother’s chilling testimony, prosecutors feel the case is solid and are choosing to spare the boy the pain of testifying.
“I couldn’t breathe. I keep crying, ‘Please, you are hurting me,'” described the 37-year-old victim.
Prosecution asked, “Do you have any idea why these guys would do this to you?”
She replied, “I don’t know.”
It was the first time the victim spoke publicly about the rape and attack that occurred in Dunbar Village. Dressed head to toe in white and speaking in a thick Haitian accent, the victim often wept as she told prosecutors how several men barged into her home and proceeded to brutally rape and torture her and force her son to have sex with her. She has permanent internal injuries, but, she says, the men meant to kill her by setting her on fire.
“Did there come a time where someone in the crowd talked about lighting you on fire?”
“Yes, they keep asking for a lighter.” She says she kept the lighter from them, keeping her and her son alive.
Throughout her entire testimony Wednesday, both defendants, Nathan Walker, Jr. and Tommy Poindexter, rarely made eye contact, only looking down or at their attorneys.
“I was crying and praying at the same time,” continued the victim.
Prosecution asked, “And why didn’t you scream out for help? Did you believe they would kill you?”
Victim responded, “Yes.”
The prosecution is expected to rest its case Thursday. Up to 10 men participated in the rape, but most wore masks. Only four were arrested. Two are on trial right now, a third at a later date, and one turned state’s witness.
- August 28, 2009: Verdict Reached In Dunbar Village Rape Trial
- August 28, 2009: Closing Arguments Conclude In Dunbar Village Rape Trial
- August 27, 2009: Dunbar Village Victim: I Was Crying, Begging For Them To Stop
- August 26, 2009: Defendant Continues Testimony In Dunbar Village Rape Trial
- August 24, 2009: Opening Statements Begin In Dunbar Village Gang-Rape Trial
- August 13, 2009: Dunbar Village Gang-Rape Suspect Pleads Guilty
- July 17, 2009: Separate Juries Ordered In Dunbar Village Gang-Rape Trial
- March 3, 2009: Prosecutors: Teen Won’t Cooperate In Dunbar Village Gang-Rape Trial
- Date Set In Dunbar Village Gang-Rape Trial , 2009:
Attorneys draw out different roles of key witness in Dunbar Village rape case – (08.25.2009)
… A co-defendant in the savage rape of a Dunbar Village woman and her son testified Tuesday about details of her assault, naming six people who had violated her that night, including himself. Avion Lawson, 16, who has pleaded guilty, told of Tommy Poindexter having an assault rifle and being the ringleader. He described him as the one laughing as she was assaulted, the one directing others to beat the boy to shut him up, the one forcing mother and son into sex together.
Police witness in Dunbar Village rape case: ‘She was in the fetal position’ after assault – (08.24.2009)
After opening statements in the trial of two men charged with a brutal attack on a Dunbar Village woman and her son, prosecutors rolled out dozens of evidence bags, sealed with red tape. They began showing photos, pointing out the staples in the boy’s head after being beaten. One police officer described their demeanor at hospital after the attack. “She was in the fetal postion on side of the bed, and he was in the fetal position in the chair next to her,” said Dustin Moore.
Second jury seated in Dunbar Village rape case – (08.19.2009)
A jury panel was seated late Wednesday for the trial of a second man accused in the savage attack on a Dunbar Village woman and her son. Five females and three males were seated to hear the case against 18-year-old Nathan Walker Jr. Opening statements in Walker’s and co-defendant Tommy Poindexter’s cases are scheduled for Monday morning.
Jury selected to hear evidence against one defendant in Dunbar Village rape case – (08.18.2009)
… Moving quickly in the Dunbar Village sexual assault case, six men and two women were selected as jurors late today to judge the evidence against 20-year-old Tommy Poindexter. The panel of eight, including two alternates, was asked to come back Friday morning for opening statements. None are African-American. The hunt begins Wednesday for prospective jurors to judge evidence against 18-year-old Nathan Walker Jr. Poindexter and Walker are scheduled to be tried together, but each will have his own jury.
Two charged in brutal Dunbar Village rape set to go to trial Tuesday – (08.16.2009) …Dunbar Village – the public housing complex’s name itself connotes one of the county’s most appalling crimes. Two young men charged with a brutal assault inside one of its apartments go to trial Tuesday in the first public vetting of evidence in the case. This much is known for sure: a mother and her then 12-year-old son were attacked in June 2007 by a group of as many as 10 men and boys, at least some with shirts wrapped around their faces. The mother was beaten and sexually assaulted various ways and she and her son were forced to simulate sex with each other, according to a charging indictment. The 35-year-old woman told police that afterwards they were doused with chemicals in an attempt to destroy any evidence.
Youngest Dunbar Village rape defendant pleads guilty, will testify against others – (08.12.2009) …The youngest of four men charged in the gang rape of a 35-year-old Dunbar Village woman and assault on her 12-year-old son could become the star witness against others accused of the crime that stunned the community two years ago. Avion Lawson, who was 14 when the woman was raped by up to 10 men before she and her bloodied son were forced to perform sex acts on each other, pleaded guilty Wednesday to 14 charges, admitting he brutalized the two in their West Palm Beach apartment.
Youngest Dunbar Village rape defendant pleads guilty, will testify against others – (08.11.2009) …The youngest of four men charged in the bone-chilling rape of a 35-year-old Dunbar Village woman and her 12-year-old son pleaded guilty this morning. Avion Lawson, who was 14 when the woman and her son were gang raped in her West Palm Beach apartment in 2007, wants to accept responsibility for his actions, his attorney told Palm Beach Circuit Judge Krista Marx.
Dunbar Village rape suspect’s deal is dead, judge rules – (07.29.20090…Prosecutors will not be forced to honor a 25-year prison plea deal they once offered to one of four young men charged in the brutal rape of a Dunbar Village woman and her son, a judge ruled Wednesday. But the judge also strongly criticized the way prosecutors treated Tommy Poindexter, including taking a statement from him in December without precise assurances and then reneging on the deal later.
Nun on jury works at same church Dunbar Village victims attended – (08.20.2009)
A nun assigned to the same parish as the victim of an armed gang rape at a notorious West Palm Beach public-housing complex will sit as a juror in the case. The woman will be on the panel in the case against Nathan Walker, 18, who, along with co-defendant Tommy Poindexter, 20, faces up to 11 life sentences for the 2007 attack in the Dunbar Village community. The young men are charged with 14 counts, eight of them armed sexual battery by multiple perpetrator while masked, in the duration of an armed gang rape of a working-class Dunbar Village woman and her son, at the notorious West Palm Beach public-housing complex.