DNA Left On Pizza Box In 2012 Was Sufficient To Support Jury Conviction 8 Years Later

jury box

In April 2012, a Tucson woman was carrying a pizza box from her car to her apartment in a dark parking lot when a man dressed all in black ran in her direction. When the man was just a few feet away, the woman threw the pizza box at him in an act of self-defense, believing he was running at her.

That act would lead to a DNA match in 2017 which resulted in Michael Sherman Walker III being convicted last year of disorderly conduct in connection to the 2012 incident.  This week the Arizona Court of Appeals issued a unanimous decision that there was sufficient evidence to support Walker’s conviction and 1.75-year prison sentence.

Court records show that as the woman was throwing the pizza box at Walker she saw a flash, heard a “muffled” bang, and smelled gun smoke. She then lost her balance, landing on the ground and setting off her car alarm.

The man, who had also fallen down, ran away without ever checking on the woman. Officers who responded to a 911 call found a shell casing by the woman’s car and a bullet “impact site” on the apartment’s exterior wall.  Hoping to identify the man, a TPD officer had DNA collected from the pizza box.

Fast forward to 2017 when that DNA finally resulted in “a hit” to a recently obtained DNA sample from Walker in an unrelated case.  It would take a few more years before Walker went to trial, but in February 2020 a Pima County jury found Walker guilty of disorderly conduct, a Class 6 felony.

Walker did not testify during the guilt phase of the trial but he did take the stand during the aggravation phase of the trial which effects sentencing.

“Walker testified that the parking lot had been dark and that he had not seen anyone until he was hit with what he assumed was a car mirror,” Judge Peter Eckerstrom wrote in the Oct. 26 appellate decision. “He further stated that he had been carrying the gun in his hand because it was falling down his pant leg as he was running.”

And he was running, Walker said, because he thought a police officer saw him involved in a drug crime.

The jurors voted against alleged aggravators which could have increased Walker’s sentence. Then in February of this year he was finally sentenced, with Judge Javier Chon-Lopez ordering 1.75 years in custody, an enhanced but slightly mitigated term. Chon-Lopez also gave Walker credit for 375 days of pretrial incarceration.

Walker’s sentence was ordered to run consecutively to an 18-month federal prison term imposed in December 2020 involving a 2019 prosecution for unlawful possession of a firearm. The federal sentence also calls for three years of federal supervised release once Walker is released from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Earlier this year Walker appealed his conviction for the 2012 incident by challenging the sufficiency of the evidence for a disorderly conduct charge. He argued the Pima County Attorney’s Office failed to present evidence that Walker had the mindset to commit disorderly conduct.

And he argued that the act of “accidently running into someone [he] did not know was in the way, without more is insufficient to establish an intent to disturb someone’s peace.”

And as to Walker’s alleged reckless handling of a weapon, his appeal argued that the woman never saw Walker with a firearm and had testified that she was not sure what she heard was a gunshot. Based on the sequence of events, Walker’s attorney argued there was no intentional discharge of a firearm or recklessness. Instead, Walker simply inadvertently hit the trigger as he fell, “causing it to fire accidentally.”

But the three judges on the court of appeals panel were not buying Walker’s arguments.

“Late in the evening, Walker ran at a fast pace through an apartment complex parking lot,” Eckerstrom’s decision notes. “[The woman] was by herself in the dark, heading to her apartment. Walker ran directly at [the woman] in the narrow space between two parked cars…Yet, the only thing that stopped Walker was [the woman] throwing the pizza box at him.”

And the judges were equally unimpressed by Walker’s argument about the gun.

“Even were we to accept Walker’s account that he accidently discharged the firearm when he fell to the ground, there was substantial evidence that he had recklessly handled the weapon…In sum, the state presented sufficient evidence from which reasonable persons could find Walker guilty of disorderly conduct beyond a reasonable doubt,” the decision states.