Judge shoots down request for two years of police data in Morristown weapons case

Virtual hearing for Delmar Walker (top right), Dec. 21, 2021. Top left: Superior Court Judge Stephen Walker. Bottom, L-R: Public defender Tracy Denholtz, Morris Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Beaman. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin
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A judge on Tuesday denied a public defender’s request for two years of Morristown police reports, ruling they were irrelevant to the case of a man accused of tossing a handgun into a dumpster while fleeing from detectives in December 2019.

Public Defender Tracy Denholtz said she hoped the data would show that Clyde Potts Drive, in the Manahan Village public housing neighborhood, is a high-crime area where someone other than Delmar Walker could have discarded the weapon.

A man was fatally shot on Clyde Potts Drive this summer.

But Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Beaman opposed the request as “overbroad and unreasonable,” saying police responded to roughly 1,200 calls from Clyde Potts Drive between 2018 and 2019.

Those calls may have generated multiple reports, all requiring review and redactions before they could be handed over, she said.

“Judge, I don’t see how two years’ worth of police reports, which could be anything from a cat stuck in a tree to a domestic violence call, or just a call for help to that area, is relevant in this case,”  Beaman said during the virtual hearing.

Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor agreed. Denholtz could put police on the witness stand to stipulate the area has high crime, he suggested.

“But burdening the Morristown Police Department with two years of police reports that have to be edited, that have no connection at all to the crime, it’s not relevant, under the rules. … It’s not admissible at trial. It’s not in any way linked to this case. I’m not going to allow you to invite the jury to speculate,” the judge said.

“All this evidence goes to, is you saying, ‘Well, look, there’s a possibility, a remote possibility, that someone else did it.’ That’s not reasonable doubt.”

“It’s not remote,” countered Denholtz.

“If we were to take a neighborhood in Short Hills, New Jersey, that had a dumpster, I’m positive that we wouldn’t have as much crime in that area that we have on Clyde Potts Drive. And frankly, your honor, Mr. Walker is facing 43 years in prison. So I’m not really concerned about what burden this places on the Morristown police department. They’re not my client. Mr. Walker is my ciient.”

Walker, 35, was charged with unlawful handgun possession, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and obstructing the administration of law, after his arrest on the morning after Christmas in 2019.

He outran Morristown detectives who had recognized him as he left a Martin Luther King Avenue grocery store. Walker had outstanding arrest warrants at the time. A citizen reported seeing Walker throw a gun into a dumpster on Flagler Street; a Morristown Housing Authority surveillance camera recorded the scene.

A loaded .22 caliber revolver was found in the dumpster. Walker, arrested in a building on Clyde Potts Drive, told police he had tossed a bag of marijuana, according to police accounts.

‘THIRD-PARTY GUILT’

Proving “third-party guilt” –that someone other than the accused committed a crime–requires strong evidence, not conjecture, Taylor said.

He cited a pair of New Jersey Supreme Court cases, State v. Fortin and State v. Perry.  In both cases, men accused of sexual assaults tried to claim semen found on the victims came from someone else.

In Fortin, Taylor said, the high court rejected the third-party defense “because there was no specific time frame, and it would have relied on the jury just speculating when (the semen) was left.”

And in Perry, the semen only indicated “some unknown individual engaged in a sexual act with the victim at some unknown time,”  Taylor said. “Our Supreme Court said you can’t introduce that evidence and have the jury speculate.”

Denholtz argued that those cases differ from Walker’s.

“Because what we have here is a public dumpster where there’s video of multiple people approaching the dumpster and putting things inside. If this is a high crime area, there’s a higher likelihood with this data than there would be without it, that any one of those people could be a criminal,” the public defender said.

Denholtz said she wanted to place her arguments on the record for a possible appeal of Taylor’s decision.

At a hearing last month, the judge set a January 2022 trial date. He also cited Walker for contempt for continually interrupting him. Walker did not speak during Tuesday’s proceeding, which he watched via a video link from the Morris County Jail.

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