Prosecutors and defense attorneys painted two vividly different portraits of Stephen James Walker Tuesday at the start of his trial for the murder of his wife, Cassandra Bryan, who was found dead with 33 bullet wounds last year in their Salt Lake home.
Prosecutor Robert Neill told the six-woman, four-man jury that Bryan, a hard-working nurse, had become fed up with pampering a husband who was unemployed and upon whom she had lavished such gifts as a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a Mercedes-Benz car.
On the day she died, April 1, 2006, the couple had fought. Walker had called her at work and even shown up at Bryan's job at the Veterans Administration Hospital, where they fought some more. She announced to her co-workers, "I hate that man. I'm going to divorce him," Neill said.
When police arrived at the couple's home later that night to find a drunken Walker and Bryan lying dead in a pool of blood, Walker told police, "I don't want her leaving me," Neill said during opening statements. There were bullet wounds in Bryan's chest, side, arms and backside, and a final shot through the head when she was on the floor.
"She essentially bled to death," Neill said, calling Bryan's death a "needless murder" for which Walker is responsible.
But defense attorney Tawni Hanseen said Walker was suicidal, not homicidal, on the night in question, and as a Vietnam veteran who had seen combat and terrible sights, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"He is not a monster," she said. "He has a mental illness."
Hanseen said Walker had struggled for 30 years with PTSD symptoms that can include such things as depression, flashbacks, substance abuse, panic attacks and an exaggerated startle response. He also had been declared 100 percent disabled.