Jefferson County stunned by murders of young mother, trooper
A Fort Drum soldier is being held in Jefferson County jail without bail on charges that he murdered his wife and a New York State trooper on Sunday night in the rural town of Theresa, NY.
Justin Walters, 32, served two tours in Afghanistan. Officials investigating his involvement in the double homicide say he had an arsenal of weapons at his home.
What went wrong: an investigation begins
The shooting Sunday night is under investigation. According to State Police Superintendent George Beach, Trooper Joel Davis arrived first at the scene at 8:30 p.m. after reports of a possible domestic violence incident. He called for back-up before leaving his vehicle roughly 75 feet from the Walters home.
"Trooper Davis radioed that there were shots being fired at the scene," Beach said. "Trooper Davis exited and walked toward the driveway, where he was shot once."
Despite being equipped with body armor, the shot proved fatal. He was later found next to the driveway. The body of Nichole Walters, 27, was discovered nearby with multiple gunshot wounds.
A second woman, Rebecca Finkle, was also shot and injured, but she is expected to survive. Justin Walters later surrendered to state police without further incident.
Remembering: Nichole Walters
Walters' family issued a statement to North Country Public Radio on Monday night, saying they are "heartbroken at the news of her death and have many questions that need to be answered by police. Her son was her world and reason to live life to the fullest. [Nichole] had a large heart, often helping friends in need and opening her door to help if they needed a place to stay.”
Nichole Walters grew up in the Syracuse area and attended high school in Cicero. Her friend from those days, Kandyce Hazard, said Nichole spent her time with "the kids who listened to darker sorts of music, the kids who wore "more eyeliner than the others, you know, those kind of kids."
But Hazard said Nichole Walters had a lightness about her that set her apart from her peers.
"With her bright red hair and her bright attitude," Hazard said. "We weren't the happiest bunch [of kids], but she was."
Remembering: Trooper Joel Davis
At a press conference Monday in Watertown, Superintendent Beach called Davis a hero.
"This is a terrible, terrible loss to this community," Beach said. "These state police troopers and sheriff's deputies are literally our protectors and they're out here every single minute of every single day."
Davis was deeply connected to the network of law enforcement in the region. He previously worked as a Jefferson County sheriff's deputy and is survived by a brother on the nearby Watertown city police force.
The entire Davis family has long-standing ties to the North Country. Joel Davis grew up in the Fort Drum area and was active in the community as an adult, coaching a junior baseball league and playing in alumni soccer games at Indian River High School in Philadelphia.
New York State Assemblymember Addie Jenne told reporters she was friends with Davis nearly her whole life.
"I just want everyone to know what a wonderful, wonderful man he was, going to try to provide assistance in a very bad situation," Jenne said through tears, "and he's going to be seriously missed by all of us."
Justin Walters makes court appearance
Justin Walters, who has been charged with first and second degree murder, appeared in town court in LeRay, NY on Monday evening for a procedural hearing. The Army infantryman walked into the small, packed courtroom, his head bowed.
Walters appeared haggard in eyeglasses and an orange jumpsuit, his wrists handcuffed and a chain around his waist. Dozens of state troopers lined the courtroom walls, watching the man who allegedly murdered one of their own.
Walters’ lawyer, Eric Swartz, asked to waive the preliminary hearing.
"I talked to Mr. Walters and we’re going to waive the preliminary hearing and ask to be sent to county court and held for a grand jury," he said.
Then Judge John Hallett asked Walters to sign an order of protection. "This order of protection requires you to stay away from and have absolutely no contact with an individual by the name of Rebecca Finkle, correct?"
Walters answered, "Yes, sir."
The judge referred to Rebecca Finkle, a close friend of Nichole Walters, who was also injured Sunday in the shooting. Finkle is expected to recover from her injuries.
After the brief hearing, Walters was escorted out of the courtroom and into a waiting police car. His lawyer Eric Swartz says the re-arraignment was really procedural.
"[The judge] couldn’t set bail in town court," he said, "so it has to go to county court. That’s where the case will be resolved."
Swartz said they will know Walters’ next court date in a week or so. In the meantime, the soldier will be held in Jefferson County Jail in Watertown without bail.
Statement from Army
According to the U.S. Army, Walters comes originally from the town of Zeeland, MI. He served multiple tours in Afghanistan. Fort Drum spokesperson Julie Halpin issued a statement, saying that the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command is involved in the investigation, but New York State Police is the lead agency.
"Trooper Davis is a hero. It takes an uncommon valor to run toward acts of terrible violence, to sacrifice for the safety of strangers," said Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt, Senior Commander at Fort Drum. "The deaths of a young mother and this brave officer are a terrible tragedy and we are deeply affected by their loss."