A brutal kidnapping and murder from nearly 35 years ago sparked tears and anger Thursday in a Clark County courtroom.
Family and friends of teenage honor student Jamey Walker gathered for the sentencing of a former professional boxer who admitted his role in the kidnapping and murder.
It’s a case 8 News NOW has covered since Walker’s body was found at the bottom of a bridge near Lake Mead, on Mother’s Day 1981.
Jamey Walker’s family has looked forward to seeing justice served for a very long time but they’ve also dreaded this moment because they knew a plea deal was in the works.
Former boxer Willie “The Cannon” Shannon was mentioned as a prime suspect on the same day when Jamey’s battered body was found so long ago. At least seven cold case detectives worked the case over the last three decades, spurred on by Jamey’s late mother. It all came to a head Thursday, and emotions were laid bare.
“I feel like I’m letting my daughter down if I don’t find out what happened,” said Eleanor Walker during an interview in 2004.
She devoted the last 30 years of her life to finding out who kidnapped, raped, and murdered her daughter Jamey.
The 18-year-old was an honor student, devout Christian, cheerleader, and the apple of her family’s eye, with a bright future ahead.
In May 1981, she was taken from the family’s home and held for ransom. Before her family could raise the money, the kidnappers tossed her off a bridge, where her body was found on Mother’s Day. Her mother visited the site for the first time in 2004. Eleanor Walker had told police from the first day, she felt that boxer Willie “The Cannon” Shannon was a prime suspect.
She worked with a string of at least seven cold case detectives over the years to keep the investigation alive, and lived long enough to see Shannon arrested in 2010, thanks to DNA evidence, but it took another five-plus years for the case to proceed, and Eleanor didn’t live to see the end.
The courthouse was packed Thursday with dozens of Jamey Walker’s loved ones, wearing shirts that demanded justice. The Walker family told the court that Shannon’s crimes killed Jamey and her mother too.
“He not only killed my niece, he killed my sister. He killed her just as surely as if he slowly poisoned her because she died from anger and resentment,” said Gerald Holder.
“Mr. Shannon, do you have anything to say before I sentence you?”
“No sir,” Shannon answered.
Shannon’s attorney told the court, he’s a family man and model prisoner. He even made it into a story about prisoners doing yoga.
“He’s loved and admired by all … the correctional officers he’s come into contact with since he’s been here,” the attorney said.
The Walker family wasn’t buying it.
One by one, Jamey’s relatives described how the murder haunts them to this day and how they have struggled to find forgiveness for the man responsible.
“I have suffered recurring night terrors and paralyzing panic attacks my entire life,” said Gayla Walker Thornton, Jamey’s cousin. “I was only 8 years old.”
“On that day — Mother’s Day — our niece, daughter, best friend lay there on a cliff hurt, dead, raped. That’s a very sad picture,” said Yolanda Walker, Jamey’s aunt.
“He might be a good model prisoner now because of what he faces, but inside that man is an animal of the worst kind,” said Gerald Hobart, Jamey’s uncle.
“My family is very hurt by this plea deal, but now I have a face to put on this childhood bogeyman that haunted me and caused me unspeakable grief and pain in my life. I still grieve,” said Gayla Walker Thornton.
Prosecutors explained to the court and the family the difficulty of obtaining a guilty verdict in a 35-year-old murder case.
Eleanor Walker died on the day she was to be deposed. The DNA evidence obtained by cold case detectives proves Shannon’s semen was on Jamey’s underwear, but that might not be enough to get a murder conviction.
Shannon was sentenced to 15 years, minus the five years he’s already served. He walked out of the courtroom without glancing at the Walker family.
Outside the courtroom, family members consoled each other, and debated the merits of the sentence. Still lurking over the proceeding are the indications from early in the investigation that Shannon had help with the kidnapping.
“When they called for ransom, it was another voice so our family has always believed it was two men and a woman,” said Gayla Walker Thornton.
“We believe we know who one of them could possibly be,” Yolanda Walker added.
Cold case detectives are still interested in pursuing new leads but they will need help from the public. The
Walkers are deeply religious and each speaker Thursday said they know it is their duty as Christians to forgive Shannon, but so far, they’re still working on that.