Morehouse College, a prestigious historically Black institution in Atlanta, has a reputation for academics and for helping shape a respectable “Morehouse Man.”
But in the summer of 2006, the college became linked to a grisly torture-slaying that left one of its own dead and shook the institution to its core.
A phone call from the concerned mother of Carlnell Walker, a 23-year-old student with a big personality and love for tennis, launched the case. He’d been out of touch for more than two weeks, so on July 8, police made a welfare check at his off-campus residence.
At Carlnell’s house “there was a strong odor of death in the air,” Jeff Turner, former Asst. Chief of Police, Clayton County PD, told “The Real Murders of Atlanta,” airing Sundays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
The residence was in disarray, showing obvious signs of a struggle. Bloody handprints and shoe prints were found in various areas. In the garage, investigators made a gruesome discovery in the car: Carlnell’s badly decomposed body.
“There were obvious signs that he had been tortured,” said Turner.
Evidence was collected, including images of shoe prints that could be used to match to possible suspects at a later time. A bloody hammer was recovered from the laundry room.
A letter to Carlnell from an insurance company about an accident he’d been in suggested to police that settlement money may have motivated the homicide.
An autopsy revealed that Carlnell died two or three weeks before he was found. His hands and thigh had been stabbed, and he had been bound. He had signs of trauma, possibly from a hammer. Carlnell was alive when he was stuffed into the car. Hypothermia — or heat stroke — caused by entrapment inside an automobile trunk was the official cause of death, as shown in the autopsy report.
Police turned to Carlnell’s phone records for leads into Carlnell’s final days. His last call, made at 2 a.m. on June 16, was to a friend who told police she last saw him on June 18. That was nearly three weeks before his body was found.
They also reached out to the Atlanta community for help with fresh leads. Detectives learned Cornell had told people that he was getting a large sum of money from an insurance settlement. They also found out from a lawyer working with Carlnell on the insurance payout that he had never received any money.
Police got a break in the case when a Morehouse College cafeteria worker reported that a student, Breylon Garland, had told him that he witnessed Carlnell’s torture and murder.
Garland was brought in for questioning and said that he had gone to Carlnell’s home, presumably to party. Keith Roberts and Miles Allen, two other Morehouse students, and a young man he knew only as Rahim, were there as well. They waited inside the house in the dark for Carlnell to arrive. When he did, he was attacked.
“Garland said that Cornell Walker had been making statements around campus that he had gotten paid big concerning his wreck that he had and that he had a lot of money on his person,” Clayton County PD Captain Stefan Schindler told producers.
Garland observed the others getting increasingly agitated and violent as they threatened Carlnell to tell them where the money was. At this point, Garland expressed his desire to leave but was told that he couldn’t.
The interrogation of Carlnell “literally went through the entire night,” investigators said. During those harrowing hours, Carlnell was mutilated and stabbed and “was kind of begging for his life,” Garland told police during a taped interview on July 19, 2006.
Garland said Roberts was the ringleader. Roberts “drew down” and threatened him with a gun. He told him that if he didn’t help put Carlnell in the trunk of the car then he’d be in there too.
Garland confirmed that Carlnell was alive when he was put into the trunk. “He was still alive,” he is heard saying in the recorded interview. “He was in the trunk screaming.”
According to investigators, Garland returned to the crime scene later that same day to let Carlnell out. But when he touched his leg there was no movement. “He said at that point he got scared and he ran back out the door,” said Schindler.
Garland was arrested on the spot. Police raced to pick up the other suspects. In custody, Miles Allen told officials that Roberts made all the decisions and told everybody what to do.
After Roberts was arrested by U.S. Marshalls, he refused to cooperate. Theodore Holliman, also known as Rahim Muhammad, according to UPI, was arrested on August 22 in Chicago and brought back to Atlanta.
The four men were charged separately with murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping, and burglary. After month-long trials, Miles Allen, then 24, and Theodore Holliman, then 33, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Breylon Garland, then 24, was acquitted in his trial. “I believe that the jury felt that without his cooperation, this case may not have been broken open as soon as it was,” said Schindler.
Peggy Walker, Carlnell’s mother, was a key witness during the trial of Keith Roberts, then 25. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
To learn more about the case, watch “The Real Murders of Atlanta,” airing Sundays at 8/7c on Oxygen or stream episodes here.