Prostitute's testimony could mean murder conviction for car thief

Prosecutors are making the case for murder against a Fresno man accused of repeatedly stealing cars and running from police, usually with teenage boys in the cars.
May 12, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
Prosecutors are making the case for murder against a Fresno man accused of repeatedly stealing cars and running from police, usually with teenage boys in the cars.

"He was going to do whatever necessary, whether it killed him or not, to get away, to not go back to jail," said Fresno police detective Joshua Sharp.

Walter McDaniel's string of crimes ended last year when he was arrested after a deadly crash. Action News had reported on him twice already before his last arrest -- after a police chase, and when he was arrested for allegedly concealing a child. As he often did, McDaniel had a young boy in the stolen car with him as he ran from police last July. But this time, a prostitute friend was also with them, and what she told police could shed light on McDaniel's intentions.

McDaniel was already on the radar for Fresno police, long before they arrested him for murder after that high-speed chase in July 2013. The 37-year-old was arrested in Central Fresno after a chase in November 2012. He had an unrelated teenage boy named Javier in his car during the chase. The same boy was in a stolen car with McDaniel when he was arrested in Madera for DUI. And when McDaniel crashed the stolen car last July, police found Javier stuck in the passenger seat.

"He was crying and he was telling me he was in a lot of pain," Sharp said.

Detectives say McDaniel also had a common target for his stolen cars. They say he admitted stealing three from Automaxx on Blackstone. Officers were watching McDaniel that day in July because they believed he had stolen number three, an Infiniti G35. But they tried to avoid yet another chase.

"Our plan was to identify McDaniel, let him get out of the vehicle and then take enforcement action when he was on foot," Sharp said.

Police say a prostitute friend who was a back-seat passenger in the Infiniti told them he was acting paranoid, and when he saw a police helicopter overhead, he started driving erratically into the country, at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. Before running a stop sign and crashing into 55-year-old Earnest Grant, McDaniel made a request.

"She said he was repeatedly telling her that whatever happened for her to take care of his son, meaning Javier," Sharp said.

A judge will decide later this week whether there's enough evidence for McDaniel to stand trial for murder. Grant's widow is attending the court hearing. She told Action News it's just something she has to do, even though some of the testimony brought her to tears. She said she realizes now Earnest didn't have a chance because of the way McDaniel was driving. But her husband was afraid of the freeway, so he took country roads to get home.


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