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No judicial conflict of interest found in Tran Walker murder case

No judicial conflict of interest found in Tran Walker murder case

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Tran Walker trial

District Judge Tod Deck considers a ruling on a motion during the opening day of Tran Walker's trial on first-degree murder charges on May 2. Attorneys on Thursday said they found that Deck had no conflict interest in the case, an issue that arose from allegations that Deck might have represented Walker in a juvenile case when Deck was a lawyer.

SIOUX CITY -- District Judge Tod Deck had no conflict of interest while presiding over Tran Walker's murder trial and finding him guilty of killing two friends.

Public defender Jennifer Solberg and First Assistant Woodbury County Attorney Mark Campbell said Thursday they had reviewed two juvenile court cases involving Walker and found nothing to show that Deck had any involvement in either case when he was a lawyer.

"I can find nothing in any file that shows any appearance by Tod Deck," Solberg said at a status hearing.

Chief District Judge Duane Hoffmeyer said because no motion to disqualify Deck had been filed, he would not file any ruling concerning the findings. Had any involvement by Deck in the juvenile cases been found, Solberg or Campbell could have argued that Deck should have recused himself from the murder case because of a conflict of interest and sought his disqualification from the case. A disqualification could have led to a retrial.

Walker's case will proceed to sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 20 in Woodbury County District Court.

Solberg and Campbell had requested a review of Walker's juvenile court files last month after Solberg's office received an allegation that Deck had represented Walker. On Thursday, they said they had reviewed two child in need of assistance cases involving Walker, who was represented in each case by Sioux City attorney Jessica Noll.

Noll, who served as Walker's guardian ad litem, testified that in a 2017 case, she was a member of the Deck Law firm in which Deck was a partner. She also represented Walker in 2007, before she was at Deck Law. Noll said she had no contact or discussions about either case with Deck.

Hoffmeyer had appointed Deck to preside over Walker's murder case in February 2018, three months after Deck was appointed to the bench. Walker later waived his right to have a jury decide his case, and Deck presided over the trial in May.

Deck on Aug. 1 ruled that Walker, 19, of Sioux City, was guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the Jan. 28, 2018, stabbing deaths of his ex-girlfriend Paiten Sullivan, 17, and mutual friend Felipe Negron Jr., 18, both of Sioux City. Walker faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

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