The Austin Chronicle

Death Watch: Father Forgave, Texas Doesn’t

Sarah Walker’s dad asked for mercy for her accused killer

By Brant Bingamon, August 12, 2022, News

Before he passed away in 2021, Joe Walk­er repeatedly expressed his forgiveness for Kosoul Chanthakoummane, the man found guilty of murdering his daughter, Sarah Anne Walker, 14 years earlier in Collin County. Walker spoke about Chan­tha­koumma­ne in "Witness of Mercy: A Father's Forgive­ness," a video produced by the Knights of Columbus.

"I don't have any hate towards him at all. I don't want him put to death," Walker said. "I've had others who thought I was just stupid – crazy – for feeling that way. 'Well, aren't you angry?' Sure I'm angry. I'd be foolish to say I wasn't angry about what happened. But I'm not angry enough to reject the Lord and his teachings … Our Lord said that the greater the sinner, the more entitled they are to mercy."

At his daughter's funeral, Walker asked the hundreds in attendance to pray for her murderer, whose name he did not yet know. After Chanthakoummane was arrested, Walker asked the Collin County district attorney not to seek the death penalty. As is often the case, the D.A. disregarded these wishes; Walker read in the newspaper the next morning of the decision to pursue a death sentence. Chantha­koum­mane received that sentence in 2007.

In the years since, Chanthakoummane has appealed his conviction on various grounds, particularly the prosecutors' use of hypnosis and bite mark evidence to build their case. Investigators hypnotized two eyewitnesses to help them remember enough detail to create a composite sketch that led to Chantha­koum­mane. At the trial, a person who billed himself as an expert in bite mark identification testified that a mark on the victim's neck matched Chan­­tha­koum­mane's teeth.

Withess hypnosis and bite-mark evidence are now widely regarded as junk science. In 2017, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped a planned execution of Chantha­koum­mane to hear arguments that the discredited practices had tainted his trial. They ruled in October 2020 that the bite-mark evidence amounted to false testimony but that its omission would not have changed the trial's outcome. As for the use of hypnosis, the judges said its limitations were well understood at the time of the trial, so the testimony was admissible. Today, the introduction of such evidence would be strongly challenged by any competent defense attorney.

Death penalty opponents continue to argue that the hypnosis and bite mark testimony calls Chanthakoummane's conviction into question. "We are not prepared to say today that he is innocent, but we are here to say that there are some real questions," said Abraham Bonowitz, executive director of Death Penalty Action, at an Aug. 3 news conference. The advocates are asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for a stay of execution. If none is granted, Chan­tha­koummane will be killed on Aug. 17.

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