Kody Walsh gets 116-year sentence in murder of Lori Daniels
ROCKFORD, Ill.—Some might be comforted that Kody Walsh, 24, likely will spend the rest of his life in Illinois prison.
Others might be perplexed that we might never know why the Rockford man shot Lori A. Daniels of Afton in the head as they were being driven north from Rockford towards Beloit on Interstate 39/90 on Sept. 9, 2012.
Walsh later took his friend's SUV with Daniels still in it, drove from Beloit back to Rockford and led police on a chase before crashing. He escaped and a week later led police near Memphis, Tenn., on another chase. He crashed again and was caught.
Tennessee authorities discovered an AK-47 rifle with ammunition in Walsh's car.
A jury on March 3 found Walsh guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated fleeing to elude a police officer and aggravated unlawful restraint.
The jury also found the murder was “exceptionally brutal and heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty.”
Those were factors Winnebago County Judge John Truitt noted as he sentenced Walsh on Monday to 116 years in prison, six of those concurrent--in effect a 110-year sentence.
Also considered was Walsh's violent criminal record stretching back to age 13 and his apparent association with the Satan's Disciples gang.
A Rockford Police officer testified Monday that Walsh had shot at a car carrying two adults and a baby in a 2008 gang incident.
The gang connection was not allowed at trial, and there was no link made Monday between gangs and Daniels' murder.
Asked after the hearing whether the prosecution had a theory of why Walsh shot Daniels, State's Attorney Marilyn Hite-Ross said “no comment.”
Daniels' family did not speak to the press. Several of them hugged, teared up, gripped hands or sobbed during the hearing, especially as Hite-Ross recounted the murder.
Hite-Ross said the driver, Ebert Davison of Beloit, heard noises coming from the back seat after the shooting and wanted to drive to a hospital, but Walsh forced him to drive to Davison's house.
Family members asked the prosecutors to read their statements to the court.
Daniels' mother, Judy Daniels, wrote her daughter was beautiful, smart and “the best mom. … everyone liked her. My family was my strength, and this has left me weak with a broken heart, sleepless nights and the loss of a job. … There will never be peace for me until I meet with my daughter in heaven.”
Daniels' sister Amy Piper wrote how proud she was that Lori, 36, had been promoted to assistant director at Rock Valley Correctional Programs and that Lori was great mother to her two girls, who were 18 and 7 at the time of the murder.
“My mother meant the world to me,” the younger daughter wrote. “The world is an awful place for us without her.”
Daniels' boyfriend, Korey Pulliam, wrote he blames himself for not telling her not to go out that night and to stay with him and watch a movie.
Pulliam said Daniels was his best friend. She had made him a better person, more confident.
“Now that she's gone, at times I feel lost and confused,” Pulliam wrote.
Letters from family and friends of Walsh portrayed him as a doting father of his young daughter who had a way with children, a great sense of humor and the ability to fix almost anything.
Walsh also was portrayed as the product of poverty and an alcoholic father who abused his mother.
Defense attorney Nick Zimmerman made an eloquent plea that Walsh be given the minimum sentence, which he calculated at 45 years. The average prisoner dies after 39 years behind bars, Zimmerman said, but at least that sentence would give his family hope he could spend his waning years with them.
“People are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives,” Zimmerman said, quoting Helen Prejean, and advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.
“I'm asking you not to give up on this fellow human being,” Zimmerman said.
Noting Walsh's criminal record, Zimmerman implied Walsh had little opportunity.
“The system never addresses the root problem of criminal behavior. The system says that if you lock them up for the appropriate amount of time, that fixes things, and that's simply not the case,” Zimmerman said.
Truitt noted, however, that Walsh's sister grew up in the same disadvantaged environment and managed to become a mother who held down a job and never was in trouble with the law.
Truitt called the murder “horrendous. This can only be described as an evil, inexplicable and cowardly act.”
Zimmerman indicated an appeal is likely. A hearing to start that process is scheduled for Monday.