Shonda Walter Death Row: Murderer Given A Stay Of Execution

Shonda Walter no longer finds herself sitting on death row in Pennsylvania. Senior Judge J. Michael Williamson recently changed Walter’s sentence from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The reason for the change in Shonda’s sentence was due Williamson stating Shonda Walter had “totally incompetent counsel in the penalty phase” of her murder trial that took place in 2005.

Shonda Walter finds herself sitting in prison for murdering her next door neighbor James Sementelli. Sementelli was an 83-year-old veteran who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which was the catalyst for the United States to enter World War II and also led to the United States dropping two atomic bombs on Japan to end the war.

Walter states that she murdered the 83-year-old veteran in order to steal his car. Once Shonda had the car, her two-fold plan was to sell it in order to pay debts she accrued in court fees and use it as a way to become initiated inside of a local gang.

The murder committed by Walter was brutal. On the night of March 25, 2003, Walter went over to her next door neighbor’s house with a 10-inch long hatchet. Shonda took her hatchet and slashed Sementelli 66 times. In addition to the 66 wounds caused by the hatchet, Sementelli also had 18 fractured bones and a total of 45 bruises on his body. The majority of the damage took place on his head, face, and neck. It has been stated that while Sementelli was taking his last breaths that Walter took her hatchet and carved a cross in his stomach while she prayed over him.

When the murder was over, witnesses claim Walter stuck around in neighbors house. Witnesses have reported that Shonda ate ice cream and watched television. Shonda also stole $500 worth of quarters from Sementelli and then took his car.

Prior to Shonda Walter’s murder trial, she was offered a plea bargain which would have taken the possibility of the death penalty off the table in the penalty phase of the trial. Walter quickly decided to not accept the deal. When the trial was completed, the jury convicted Walter of 1st-degree murder in less than an hour. Walter appealed the verdict on the grounds that her lawyer did not defend her properly. Shonda had requested a new lawyer as well, but was denied.

Prior to Shonda Walter’s stay of execution, she was the only woman on death row in Pennsylvania. Michelle Tharp, another female murder in Pennsylvania had also received a stay of execution. Tharp’s came in 2014. She is sitting in prison for allowing her seven-year-old daughter to starve to death. She has not yet been re-sentenced. With no more women on death row, the Pennsylvania prison system now has only 176 men awaiting execution for their crimes, but that number may change.

Last year, Governor Tom Wolf put a freeze on all executions in the state of Pennsylvania. Wolf’s reasoning was that the death penalty in Pennsylvania was “a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust and expensive.” Governor Wolf commented further on his decision.

“Today’s action comes after significant consideration and reflection. This moratorium is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes.”

The last prisoner in Pennsylvania to be executed was Gary Heidnik in 1999. In total, Pennsylvania has seen the execution of 1,043 people since 1693.

Do you agree with the decision to no longer have Shonda Walter on death row?

[Image Via AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File]