Originally created 03/04/03

Man tried for murder



Yong-Suk Walker was the first to die because she wouldn't stop screaming, the prosecutor told the jury in her opening statement Monday.

Mrs. Walker and her husband, Fred, awoke the night of Feb. 2, 1998, in the bedroom of their Evans home and found two armed men demanding money. Before the intruders left, the couple lay dead because Jimmy Lee Rhodes and his nephew Dag Rhodes intended to leave no witnesses, Assistant District Attorney Patricia Johnson said.

The Rhodeses have pleaded innocent to charges of murder, burglary, armed robbery and a weapon offense. Testimony in Jimmy Rhodes' Columbia County Superior Court capital murder trial began Monday.

"Ladies and gentlemen, they got the wrong guy," defense attorney Randolph Frails told the jury in his opening statement. The attorney said Mr. Rhodes was a convenient target for David Easterling, who has admitted to playing a role in the robbery and slayings.

Mr. Easterling has been involved in other homicides and in a criminal enterprise, said Mr. Frails, who is defense co-counsel with Clayton Jolly. Mr. Easterling pinned the Walker killings on Mr. Rhodes, who was in prison at the time and therefore a safer target than the men who ran the murderous criminal enterprise Mr. Easterling belonged to, the attorney said.

The slayings of Mr. and Mrs. Walker became a cold case when investigators could find no solid evidence against known suspects. More than two years later, an ex-girlfriend of Mr. Easterling told detectives that he was involved.

The prosecutor told the jury Monday that Mr. Easterling confessed to being the driver for the Rhodeses. Seven months after that, Mr. Easterling gave detectives information in another infamous crime, the June 21, 1998, slaying of Sam's Club Manager David Holt. Mr. Easterling named two other men in the Holt case, Ronald Coleman and Carlston Coleman.

The prosecution, however, has another witness, Ms. Johnson told the jury. Dag Rhodes sought out a convicted killer for advice on his case, Ms. Johnson said. That man will testify about details Dag Rhodes gave him that only the detectives and the Walkers' killers knew, she said.

Among the details kept from the public was that Mr. Walker had a small handgun in the pocket of a pair of pants in his bedroom, Ms. Johnson said. The Walkers worked 13 hours a day, six days a week at their business, Fred's Party Center on Kissingbower Road in Augusta. The night they died, they took home $34,000 in cash from the business, Ms. Johnson said.

Mr. Frails asked the jury to judge the credibility of what the convicted felons say and what they hope to gain through their testimony - getting out of prison early.

Testimony continues today at the new Columbia County Courthouse in Evans. Dag Rhodes, who is standing trial separately, has not been scheduled for trial.

Mr. Easterling, who also had faced capital murder charges in the Walker case, pleaded guilty in March 2001. He is serving two consecutive life sentences for two counts of murder in that case and kidnapping with bodily injuries in the Holt case.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.