Des Moines, IA – A 19-year-old Iowa resident, Preston Walls, was convicted of second-degree murder and manslaughter on Thursday in connection with the shooting deaths of two students at a Des Moines alternative school earlier this year. Initially, Walls had been charged with first-degree murder, but the jury’s decision to convict him on lesser charges suggests they accepted his defense that he acted out of fear for his own life.
Walls was implicated in the deaths of Gionni Dameron, 18, and Rashad Carr, 16, which occurred at the Starts Right Here program on January 23. In addition to the murder charges, Walls was also found guilty of willful injury causing serious injury for shooting Will Keeps, a former Chicago gang member and rapper who founded the Des Moines program for at-risk teens. However, he was acquitted of attempted murder in Keeps’ shooting.
Had Walls been found guilty of first-degree murder, he would have been facing a life sentence without parole. However, his conviction of second-degree murder in Carr’s death and voluntary manslaughter in Dameron’s death means he will be eligible for parole. Walls is set to be sentenced in November.
In a separate incident, a Franklin County, Iowa sheriff’s deputy fatally shot 30-year-old Matt Davis of Hampton. Davis had refused to drop what was later identified as a pellet gun during the confrontation.
Walls’ defense team acknowledged that he was responsible for the deaths of the two students and the shooting of Keeps, but argued that he believed his life was in danger. They contended that Walls, who was set to graduate from the program two days after the shooting, feared that Dameron and Carr would attack him upon his departure from school.
During the trial, it was noted that Dameron had a gun at the school on the day of the shooting. Walls confessed to shooting Carr nine times and Dameron 13 times, as well as hitting Keeps with two bullets. He was arrested less than an hour after the incident.
The prosecution argued that Walls was associated with a gang that frequently clashed with a rival gang, which included Dameron and Carr. However, the families of all the teens involved disputed their alleged gang affiliations.
The Starts Right Here program, which is affiliated with Des Moines public schools, reopened a few weeks after the shooting and continues to operate with about 30 students this fall. The families of Carr and Dameron have since filed a lawsuit against the program and Keeps, alleging that they failed to ensure the safety of the program.