SIOUX CITY -- Upset that his relationship with Paiten Sullivan was over, Tran Walker told friends that he needed closure. In the days leading up to her death, he expressed a desire to meet with her to talk about it.
Some of those friends counseled Sullivan that if she did see him, not to do so alone. They believed he might want to harm her, based on Facebook messages he exchanged with others.
"He was very hurt," said Erin Brand, who had met Walker through a mutual friend and also knew Sullivan.
Approximately an hour before Sullivan was fatally stabbed, Brand testified that she had received a text message from Walker that said, "I just gotta get it over with. Closure."
Walker, 19, of Sioux City, is accused of fatally stabbing the 17-year-old Sullivan and their friend Felipe Negron Jr., 18, both of Sioux City, on Jan. 28, 2018, in a PT Cruiser at Jay Avenue and South Cecelia Street. Police believe Walker stabbed Sullivan because was upset about their breakup. Negron was stabbed as he tried to protect Sullivan, according to court documents.
Walker has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if found guilty as charged.
As the first day of his trial unfolded Thursday in Woodbury County District Court, prosecutors and defense attorneys dissected the context and intent of messages Walker sent in the months prior to Sullivan's death.
"I don't know how I'd react. All I know is it would be real bad," Walker said in an October 2017 Facebook message to Jason Winter about what would happen if Sullivan cheated on him or broke up with him.
Winter, who had taken Walker into his home that fall, said Walker himself wasn't sure what he meant by that statement. Winter said he was aware Walker had a bipolar depressive state and schizophrenia. Winter said he worried about Walker, who had spoken about suicide and had a history of harming himself.
Winter said he never saw Walker act out violently against anyone, including Sullivan, whom he said he observed hit Walker on several occasions.
"I did not see him lay a hand on her," Winter said.
Sullivan's stepmother, Stevie Sullivan, testified that Walker and Sullivan broke up because he did not want her to finish school. Paiten Sullivan blocked Walker on her social media accounts after their breakup, Stevie Sullivan said.
Walker was able to get word to Sullivan through friends that he wanted to meet with her to discuss their breakup. Negron had agreed to drive Sullivan to meet Walker and borrowed his friend Brian Marino's PT Cruiser. Marino testified that Sullivan had told him she didn't want to be alone with Walker.
On cross examination, Marino was shown his deposition in which he had said it was he who told Sullivan not to meet alone with Walker. After a short recess, prosecutors showed a video of Marino's police interview in which he told investigators Sullivan had told him she didn't want to be alone with Walker.
Sullivan and Negron picked up Walker in the PT Cruiser late on Jan. 27 or early on Jan. 28. Shortly after 1 a.m., Luis Bernal and Taylor Sarff were standing outside Pete's 20th, a bar at 3118 Jay Ave., when they observed what they believed was a man beating up his girlfriend in front of King Koin Launderette at 3131 Jay Ave.
When they heard the woman scream, they ran over to the couple. The man fled, and the woman, whom they later learned was Sullivan, collapsed in the street. Sarff went to her, observed several stab wounds to her neck and used his sweatshirt to try to stop the bleeding.
"There was too much blood, and I couldn't understand where it all was coming from. It looked like something from a movie. From what I saw, I knew it wasn't going to turn out OK," Sarff testified.
Bernal noticed another man getting out of a PT Cruiser in the King Koin parking lot. Bernal testified that he ran to the man, whom he later learned was Negron, and saw his injuries. He asked Negron who had done this to him.
"Tran Walker," Negron replied, according to Bernal.
Negron said he reported Walker's name as a suspect to police who arrived at the scene. Paramedics tried to save Sullivan and Negron, but neither had pulses, and both were in cardiac arrest by the time they were taken from the scene to the hospital. Both died of excessive blood loss, emergency room doctors testified.
Meanwhile, police looked for Walker, who called Brand at 1:40 a.m., 23 minutes after a 911 call reporting the stabbing had been made. Walker asked her to pick him up at a Taco John's restaurant, Brand testified, but she did not have her car.
"He sounded very anxious," Brand said.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Friday.