Former Fort Drum soldier who killed wife, state trooper will be sentenced Tuesday
By CRAIG FOX | The Watertown Daily Times | Published: April 22, 2019
WATERTOWN, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Just months before he shot and killed his wife Nichole, Justin Walters, a former Fort Drum soldier, admitted to her in a text message that he entered the Army so he could legally kill people.
“I see my stress as I would like to kill people and they don’t let me in because of my criminal background,” he wrote in the Oct. 3, 2016, text.
Nine months later, Nichole, 27, was dead, the victim of at least 13 gunshot wounds from his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, which he named “Betsie.”
Responding to the domestic incident, Trooper Joel R. Davis, 36, died from a single gunshot wound from a bullet that pierced his bulletproof vest and struck him in the heart as he arrived to the Walters’ home at 34371 County Route 46, Theresa, on July 9, 2017. Mrs. Walters’s friend, Rebecca Finkle, who was staying on the couple’s property, was injured by gunfire but has since recovered.
On March 20, a jury found Walters, 34, guilty of 52 counts that included two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and multiple counts of weapon possession.
He’ll be sentenced on Tuesday in a Jefferson County courtroom. He faces a sentence of life without parole.
Walters showed violent tendencies long before he came to Fort Drum. When he was just 15, he plotted to kill his classmates at his middle school in Michigan in 1999.
Walters, a staff sergeant who served as an infantryman with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, joined the Army in 2007 at the age of 23 and spent his entire career at Fort Drum. He served two year-long deployments to Afghanistan.
Before the murders, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was receiving treatment for his mental health issues and for problems with alcohol.
As part of that care, he was sent for a month to the University of Behavioral Health at Denton, Texas, during the winter of 2017, where he wrote journal entries about his treatment.
The journal entries indicated that Walters entered the military so he could legally kill people. He described how he wanted to shoot the faces off people and he expressed his racist and violent thoughts.
When he returned home, Walters had a fascination with his two AR-15s, “Betsie” and “Zombie.” Neighbors testified that he went into the backyard several times a week for target practice.
A t-shirt Justin Walters wore on the day he killed his wife and Trooper Davis possibly showed his mindset on the day of his murders.
The words “Guns Don’t Kill People I Do” were prominently displayed on the front of the orange T-shirt he wore when he was arrested. At his first court appearance a day after the shooting, Walters, shirtless and face covered with stubble, looked confused and told the judge he didn’t know why he was in the courtroom.
His appearance and demeanor were vastly different during the eight-day trial. Walters wore khaki pants and button-down shirts and occasionally greeted his mother, who attended the trial every day.
His skills handling guns were awarded at Fort Drum. He earned leadership certificates as a marksman in rifle and machine guns.
During her hour-long closing, District Attorney Kristyna S. Mills told the jury that Walters knew exactly what he was doing the night he killed his wife and the trooper.
Walters, an expert marksman, “tortured and maimed” his wife by purposely shooting her at least 13 times, some while she lay on the ground and he stood above her and fired the rifle, she said.
He wanted his wife to first feel pain before killing her, Mrs. Mills said. By contrast, he used one clean shot to kill Trooper Davis, just as the trooper got out of his patrol car and was headed up the driveway.
“Dismemberment, decapitation, murder by gunfire, shotgun execution, delivered against the face, the way the face flattens out, the way the eyes bulge out or simply the mouth opens and empties,” he wrote in his journal.
Dr. James Knoll, the director of the Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship Program at Upstate Medical University, testified that he diagnosed Walters with antisocial personality disorder, pointing out that he had a total disregard of the rights of others. Walters also suffered from borderline personality behavior, citing a tendency to have a quick temper, Dr. Knoll testified.
“I am an extreme racist and intolerant of most people. It is my honest preference to see the death of billions of people. If there was a button for it, I would press it. I think constantly of violent death,” he wrote in a journal entry.
A journal entry described extremely violent, torturous sexual assaults and rape toward women that would include “scenes of violent sexual assault at gun or knife point, women restrained, gagged, choked.”
They would result in “tears and thick slobber, the sort of slobber that is thick and slobbery ... blackmail and punishment,” he wrote.
At the end of the journal entry, Walters wondered whether he should communicate his thoughts.
“These are the things that go through my head all the time. I don’t know what normal people think, but I’m sure it isn’t this,” he wrote.
In the weeks leading up to the murders, Walters’s private Facebook posts expressed a fascination with death and outlined the medical help he received at Fort Drum.
“All these (expletive) and experts, you’ll never know man. You weren’t there,” Walters wrote on June 20, about two weeks before the shooting. “(Expletive) you all, you don’t know the purpose of death. You struggle with the purpose of life? Death. Death. Death. Your decomposing corpse is worth more than anything you will do in your life.”
He also wrote about life after the Army, as he planned for a transfer to a unit that prepares injured soldiers needing complex medical treatment for their next chapter in life.
A few days after the shooting, his family complained that Walters was not receiving adequate care for his PTSD.
During the trial, his attorney. Edward Narrow, put on a defense that his client suffered “mental disease and mental defect.” His only witness, Dr. Stephen Price, a psychologist who has a private practice in Albany, testified that Walters didn’t know what he was doing that night.
Walters suffered from PTSD and severe alcohol disorder after serving two deployments in Afghanistan in which he saw friends killed during combat, Dr. Price said.
It came out during the trial that he was drinking between 12 and 14 beers a night, passing out and suffering from blackouts in the weeks leading up to the shooting.
Dr. Price, who previously served as psychologist in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps, determined Walters had multiple blackouts from excessive drinking.
Walters, originally from Zeeland, Mich., suffered from mental illness since he was a boy when he saw his parents divorce at a young age and was sexually assaulted by his older brother, Dr. Price said.
Walters also had legal troubles as a teen.
He reportedly wanted to kill his middle school classmates when he was just 15 years old.
Walters pleaded guilty to conspiracy to carry a dangerous weapon after police were tipped off to his plot to obtain a gun with a classmate at Macatawa Bay Middle School in Holland, Mich.
In November 1999, Walters told police that he and another student compiled a “die or dead list,” and attempted to get a firearm from a suspected gang member, according to the Grand Rapids Press.
In 2000, police also linked Walters and a different teen to vandalism of more than 100 tombstones. Walters pleaded guilty to multiple charges in connection with the vandalism and completed 40 hours of community service and a rehabilitation program.
Between the two incidents, his record resulted in six felony charges and pair of misdemeanor probation violations.
How did he get into the Army with such a criminal record?
At the time of his enlistment in 2007, the military considered a recruit’s criminal record for just the year prior. The military had the option of granting waivers for recruits with records. Recruiting application standards have since changed.
And now he may end up in prison for the rest of his life.
The Walters’s 3-year-old son, Axel, now about 5, is in foster care.