SIOUX CITY -- A judge must decide whether Facebook messages sent from Tran Walker's account to set up a meeting that ended in the stabbing deaths of his ex-girlfriend and another friend will be admissible at trial.
Lawyers debated Friday the admissibility of the messages, which the prosecution says prove Walker's intent, motive and choice of weapon. Public defender Jennifer Solberg said there is no way to prove that Walker wrote the messages.
Walker, 19, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder for the Jan. 28, 2018, stabbing deaths of Paiten Sullivan, 17, and Felipe Negron Jr., 18.
His trial is scheduled for April 30 in Woodbury County District Court.
According to court documents, Walker began stabbing Sullivan while they were in a vehicle at Jay Avenue and South Cecelia Street. Police believe Negron, a mutual friend, was driving before he was fatally stabbed while trying to protect Sullivan.
Walker told police he wanted Sullivan "to feel the pain he was feeling" since she had broken up with him, court documents said. Negron and Sullivan, both of Sioux City, were transported from the scene and later pronounced dead at Mercy Medical Center. Walker was found about an hour later at the Hy-Vee store on Gordon Drive.
First Assistant Woodbury County Attorney Mark Campbell obtained 37,053 pages of records from Facebook that contain messages sent from Walker's account to Negron's account. Among the messages were arrangements for the three to meet on the night of the stabbing and messages sent from Walker's account to Sullivan's account in which the sender wrote that if Sullivan were to leave Walker it "would be enough to make him want to kill."
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Solberg argued in her written resistance and again during Friday's hearing that if the Facebook messages were admitted at trial, it would violate Walker's right to confront witnesses. A Facebook representative should be present to answer questions on the witness stand, Solberg said.
The larger issue, she said, is that someone else could have signed into Walker's account and sent those messages. Written records don't prove that the messages were sent by the account owner, she said.
District Judge Tod Deck acknowledged the issue of proving authorship would be a key element in reaching his decision.
"It raises questions of authorship," he said, adding that if the messages were not written by Walker, they would not be relevant as evidence.
Deck said he would review the messages and issue a written ruling.
Walker remains in the Woodbury County Jail on a $1 million bond. If found guilty as charged, he would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.