U.S. Attorney Walker resigning; CJ reporting led to complaint

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U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Thomas Walker announced today he’s resigning to work in private practice, and local media outlets have issued effusive praise about his tenure in office, as has U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

One issue that hasn’t been mentioned in this coverage, however, is Walker’s actions in the prosecution of gang leader, drug dealer, and contract killer Reynaldo Calderon. As Carolina Journal reported earlier this year, Calderon was hired to torture and kill another drug dealer. Calderon was arrested, captured, and pleaded guilty to a series of crimes, but in the view of the prosecutor who led the investigation and the judge presiding over the case, Walker authorized Calderon to receive a sentence that was much too lenient.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Calderon should have received a mandatory life sentence. As he awaited sentencing, a prison informant overheard Calderon making threats against the life of Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Walker (no relation to Thomas), who led the prosecution. Calderon also said he had arranged to have a gang member who cooperated with prosecutors murdered.

When the U.S. Marshals Service learned of the threats against Denise Walker, they immediately sent her and her husband into seclusion for six weeks, under the protection of marshals.

Even so, Thomas Walker and his top deputy, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bruce, authorized the assistant U.S. attorney handling the sentencing phase of the case to seek a downgrade of Calderon’s sentence to 30 years because they say Calderon offered cooperation. When Denise Walker learned of this, she resigned.

U.S. District Court Judge David Faber would have none of it. He allowed Denise Walker to speak of her ordeal at the sentencing hearing before giving Calderon a life sentence. Faber also indirectly dressed down Denise Walker’s former bosses, saying that Calderon’s “maximum offense” should have led the government to call for the “maximum penalty. The maximum penalty under our federal laws is the death penalty, but the government has elected not to pursue that penalty and it has the discretion to do so, which the court must honor. That leaves this court with a life sentence as the maximum penalty it can impose and I have done so.”

The actions by Walker’s office in the Calderon prosecution led to a formal request by the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys for Lynch to launch an investigation of the handling of the prosecution and consider punitive action against Walker.

Citing Carolina Journal‘s reporting, Steven Cook, president of the NAAUSA and a federal prosecutor in Tennessee wrote, “The actions taken here — negotiating with a murderous gang leader, agreeing to hide information from the sentencing judge, and blaming the AUSA — breach the department’s most basic responsibilities to AUSAs and to the courts, and, if left unaddressed, will embolden criminals and jeopardize the integrity of the system and the lives and security of all AUSAs and agents.”

CJ is attempting to determine if the U.S. Department of Justice is following up on that request.

Rick Henderson / Editor-in-chief, Carolina Journal

Rick Henderson became editor-in-chief of Carolina Journal in August 2016 after being managing editor of Carolina Journal since April 2009. Before that, he had worked more than...

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