Sixth Amendment

New trial won for inmate convicted of plotting wood-chipper murder of federal judge

  • Print.

judge and gavel

Image from

An inmate convicted in 2016 for seeking hit men to kill those who sent him to prison for scamming an elderly couple has won a new trial.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco overturned the conviction of John Walthall because he was denied the right to represent himself at trial, report the Orange County Register and the OC Weekly. The court found a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in a July 24 unpublished opinion.

In a recorded prison yard conversation with an undercover FBI agent, Walthall said he wanted to kill U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford, two FBI investigators and two federal prosecutors, according to the Orange County Register. Walthall had thought the FBI agent was someone who could carry out the plot.

Walthall said in the recorded conversation the judge should be put in a wood chipper.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney had refused to allow Walthall to represent himself in the trial. Carney ruled that Walthall was competent to stand trial but not competent to represent himself because he wasn’t capable of handling his defense, and he lacked legal knowledge and skills to defend himself.

Carney’s determination was largely based on Walthall’s “antics” during court appearances, the appeals court said. He didn’t talk to Walthall about three elements of self-representation, and he wrongly used Walthall’s lack of legal knowledge in his assessment.

Terminating Walthall’s right of self-representation would have been allowed if he was disruptive or obstructionist after he was given the opportunity to represent himself, the appeals court said.

The OC Weekly had covered Walthall’s entire trial, in which he attacked the work of his defense lawyer and made odd allegations. “Carney repeatedly displayed generous patience with the defendant, who was prone to bizarrely glare at people inside the courtroom and perform loud, rambling outbursts—some involving the Illuminati’s alleged role in his plight,” the OC Weekly reported.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.