Ex-administrator given probation
A parade of former and current coaches from School District 51 stood up Thursday for convicted sex offender Johnnie Walker, praising the longtime former Grand Junction High School administrator as a worthy example for students, loyal and passionate about his old job.
“I know several people who would not hesitate to put Johnnie back in the profession he loves so well,” Steve Phillips, a former colleague of Walker’s and current Palisade High School basketball coach, told the judge during Walker’s sentencing hearing.
Walker is still held in high regard by many of his former counterparts in the Colorado High School Activities Association, Phillips said.
“If I was ever in trouble, Johnnie was always the first one there,” acting Fruita Monument High School Activities Director Denny Squibb said. “I can trust him with my grandchildren.”
Choked with emotion, Walker asked District Judge Thomas Deister on Thursday to give him “hope” and said he misses his work with students and athletes.
“That was my connection to the world,” said Walker, periodically weeping as he addressed the judge. “The sadness that all this brings is overwhelming and makes it difficult some days to put one foot in front of the other. I ask you not to take hope and purpose.”
In what Deister acknowledged to be the minimum penalty available, the judge sentenced Walker to serve 10 years to life on probation. The sentence means Walker, who has registered as a sex offender, will be under state supervision for at least 10 years, and authorities will decide after that whether his supervision should continue.
The judge also ordered Walker, 51, to successfully complete sex-offender treatment, which the judge agreed to allow Walker to complete in Sterling, Walker’s hometown, where he’s lived much of the past two years.
Deister approved the transfer of Walker’s probation to Logan County. Walker also was ordered to pay fines and costs of prosecution, topping $8,000.
Walker faced a maximum possible term of 10 years to life in prison, and he could have received a term in the Mesa County Jail.
Walker was found guilty by a Mesa County jury Sept. 25 on felony counts of attempted Internet luring of a child and attempted child enticement. The jury made an independent finding that Walker engaged in sexually explicit Internet chat for the specific purpose of sexual contact with a child.
An employee of District 51 for 17 years, and most recently activities director at Grand Junction High School, Walker was arrested in 2007 after allegations surfaced that he used a school-issued laptop computer for sex-driven Internet chats with a person he believed to be a 14-year-old girl from Colorado Springs. Instead, Walker was chatting with Jason Steitle, a teacher in San Antonio.
Deputy District Attorney David Waite, who headed Walker’s prosecution, took no position on what sentence Walker should receive. In a sex-offender- specific evaluation, authorities deemed Walker “medium to low” risk to re- offend, while the report concluded it’s unknown whether Walker will be amenable to sex-offender therapy. In interviews, Walker continued to deny wrongdoing.
During trial, Walker’s defense claimed Walker believed he was chatting with an ex-girlfriend, who was using a fake identity online so she could meet other men.
“If he continues to deny, he could be referred back to court for re-sentencing,” Waite told the judge, summarizing the findings of Walker’s written evaluation.
While characterizing Walker’s actions as “appalling,” Deister pointed to Walker’s lack of criminal history, overall life experience and his high-profile support, in opting for probation.
“My 11th grade American History teacher is here,” the judge said, noting Walker’s supporters. “I know some of these people personally, and they do not offer their remarks lightly.”
Walker told the judge he has plans with his sister to launch a Front Range food catering business.