TAHOLAH — James Donald Walker has pleaded guilty to five counts in connection to the May 2017 death of a Taholah man, including second-degree manslaughter, according to Grays Harbor County Prosecutor Katie Svoboda.
Walker, 31 at the time of his arrest in late May 2017, is expected to be sentenced to just under 7½ years in prison Friday as part of a plea agreement.
The Hoquiam resident has been in custody since his arrest.
He was initially charged with first-degree manslaughter. He has also pleaded guilty to two counts of hit-and-run with injury and two counts of vehicular assault.
“I met with the victims’ families on April 24, 2018, and spent approximately two hours discussing the proposal of the defense,” wrote Svoboda in documents filed April 30.
“We discussed at great length the pros and cons of agreeing to the plea agreement or of proceeding to trial. I have since spoken with the family again, and they have indicated that it is their wish to see the case resolved and are in support of the amendment and plea.”
James Smith-Kramer, 20, was killed and his friend, Harvey Anderson, was injured when — as investigators found — Walker put his vehicle in reverse and “floored it” in the direction of a group of young people who had confronted him about what they called reckless driving near their campsite on a gravel bar in the Donkey Creek area near Humptulips.
Witnesses said Smith-Kramer died while pushing his friend out of harm’s way.
Svoboda said there were “factual issues in this case that present risks to both parties,” leading to the state accepting the defense’s plea deal.
There were several unknowns during the investigation. Walker claimed he was threatened by the group on the gravel bar and a rock was thrown through his window, while the group on the gravel bar claimed the rock was thrown later in the incident.
Smith-Kramer was a member of the Quinault Indian Nation, as were several others at the scene.
Soon after the incident, Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp released a statement saying the attack was racially motivated and that the occupants of Walker’s vehicle were shouting war whoops.
The Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the incident, said there was no evidence of a racial component.
Walker also went to great lengths to hide evidence in the case, including hiding his truck, altering his appearance and stealing a window to replace the broken one in his vehicle.
He was not identified until a Hoquiam Police officer who was familiar with Walker brought his name up during the investigation.
The plea deal recommends Walker gets the top of the standard range sentence for second-degree manslaughter — 89 months. His other charges also carry significant jail time, but all five sentences will run concurrently if the plea deal is upheld by the judge.
The maximum sentence for second-degree manslaughter is 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.