Jefferson County jurors have found former U.S. Army Sgt. Justin Walters guilty of fatally shooting his wife and a state trooper back in 2017. The verdict came down after a weeklong trial in Watertown.
Walters was accused of killing his wife, 27-year-old Nichole Walters, during a domestic dispute at their home in Theresa in July 2017.
According to an autopsy, Nichole was shot 13 times in the face, arms and torso. Trooper Joel Davis — the first officer to respond to 911 calls in the Walters’ neighborhood – suffered a fatal wound to the chest. A family friend who was living on the Walters’ property at the time was shot in the back but survived.
Walters was a non-commissioned officer who served 10 years in the Army, all of that time at Fort Drum. He had been deployed to Afghanistan twice and received several commendations for his service.
But Walters also had a lengthy criminal record dating back to his teen years. In 1999, Walters pleaded guilty to conspiracy for attempting to carry out a Columbine-style shooting at his middle school in Michigan.
According to WWNY-TV, Walters had received treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism in recent years. He was in the process of leaving the Army at the time of the shootings.
Jefferson County prosecutors presented the jury with text messages that showed Justin Walters was not living with his wife, Nichole, and their young son as of July 2017. According to WWNY, the messages showed that Nichole had repeatedly asked her husband to curb his drinking: "I'm done with the problems, I'm done with the drinking. I'm done being anxious about what you may do next," she wrote at one point.
Some messages seemed to indicate Justin Walters had pointed a gun at his wife on at least one occasion leading up to the shooting, according to state investigators.
The defense argued that Walters couldn't be held responsible for the killings because of his mental state — but the jury rejected that claim.
Defense attorney Ed Narrow argued that the soldier had been drinking heavily, to the point of blacking out. According to the Watertown Daily Times, Narrow said his client wasn't in control of his actions due to his intoxication and his history of mental illness. The jury heard testimony from two psychiatrists who had examined Walters. But they came to different conclusions about Walters’ mental state.
State troopers testified that they found a cache of weapons and some Nazi paraphernalia at Walters’ home in Theresa. An investigator described several journal entries, WWNY reported, in which Walters expressed racist and violent thoughts.
"I'm not sure what normal people think about, but I'm sure it isn't this," Walters wrote.
In addition to the first-degree murder charges, the jury also found Walters guilty of dozens of weapons offenses and multiple counts of child endangerment. All together, Walters could face decades in prison.