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Nigeria Masterweb News Report

    Man guilty in death of vendor

    He gets life in prison in shooting of Nigerian selling ice cream

    By ROBERT THARP / The Dallas Morning News

    Saturday, May 3, 2003

    A guilty verdict for the robbery and shooting death of a young African immigrant was as much as Onwukwe Godwin Okeke's supporters could hope for as they sat through the weeklong trial and relayed news back to anxious family in Nigeria.

    Jurors deliberated about two hours Friday afternoon before finding Stacy Walker, 18, guilty of robbing and killing the 35-year-old as he sold ice cream near Fair Park last summer. Mr. Walker was sentenced to life in prison.

    Mr. Okeke's closest relative in the United States, cousin Tomcallis Aliugo, took off a week from his job in Nashville, Tenn., to attend the trial. After the verdict, as he was preparing to return home, he said he would have to think about what he would tell family members in Nigeria about the outcome.

    "I feel relieved," he said. "Still, my brother cannot get up from the grave."

    Mr. Okeke won his immigration visa to come to the United States from Nigeria in a lottery about three years ago. He had the hopes of many in his hometown of Awgu. Every dollar he earned was accounted for either to attend college someday or to send home to his wife and family.

    Mr. Okeke, who had a business administration degree from his homeland, worked hard selling ice cream on Dallas streets and logged hours as a church security guard downtown in his off time. He also had a soft spot for children who didn't have enough money to buy an ice cream bar, Mr. Aliugo said.

    In a statement to Dallas police Detective Bill Carollo, Mr. Walker admitted to robbing and shooting the vendor. At the time, the ninth-grade dropout and street-gang member had been loitering with friends in a vacant lot on Hamilton Avenue, just south of Fair Park.

    "He thought I was kidding and laughed at me," Mr. Walker said in the statement. "I told him 'I'm not kidding. I'm for real.' "

    Getting that statement admitted into evidence during the trial was difficult for prosecutors because Detective Carollo died in a car wreck weeks before the trial started and could not testify about procedures and techniques he used to obtain the confession. To vouch for the techniques, prosecutor Nancy Mulder presented colleagues who witnessed different parts of the seven-hour interview.

    Testifying Friday, Mr. Walker said the confession was coerced and denied involvement in the death, saying instead that "two dudes" he didn't know shot the man. He also said he was high on PCP at the time of his interview with the detective and denied that he had been advised of his rights to be represented by an attorney.

    Two other co-defendants also gave statements to police about Mr. Walker's involvement in the crime. But in closing arguments, defense attorney Rick Harrison said prosecutors did not sufficiently prove the case.

    At the trial's conclusion, Mr. Aliugo said he was relieved but still sad about his cousin's death and his struggling family in Africa.

    "It's too much. It's just too much," he said. "I'm just happy justice has been served, but it does not solve the problem."

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