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Bank Robber Slain by Deputies in Dana Point Was Out on Bail

Crime: Money from the Dana Point heist was for man's girlfriend and daughter in case he was sent to prison, the girlfriend believes.

April 15, 2001|JACK LEONARD and SEEMA MEHTA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A 22-year-old man killed by sheriff's deputies after a bank holdup in Dana Point feared he was facing a lengthy prison term for attempted murder and may have robbed the bank to provide for his girlfriend and daughter, according to family members.

James Titus Walker of Lake Elsinore died Friday after a furious gun battle as he tried to run from a burning apartment building in which he had barricaded himself.

Sheriff's officials on Saturday described Walker as a career criminal with a long history of arrests, including arrests on robbery charges.

His girlfriend and family members said Walker, who had been bailed out of jail on the attempted murder charge only days earlier, was convinced he was going to be convicted and sent to prison. The girlfriend, 23-year-old Nicole Strong of Lake Elsinore, said Walker recently talked about the possibility of dying and about his unwillingness to go back to prison.

"He figured if it didn't go right, he would die because he wouldn't go back to jail," Strong said. "He told me what to do in the event of his death. He's been saying that for a while."

Strong believes that Walker robbed the Dana Point Bank of America for money Strong and their young daughter could live on. Strong said she is six months pregnant with their second child.

"He wanted us to be secure before he died," she said. "He said he had a plan. . . . I didn't know he was going to rob a bank. I knew he was going to do something."

Walker's grandfather, Paul Jackson, said he had raised Walker since his grandson was 6 years old. Walker fell in with the wrong crowd as a teenager, Jackson said, and spent 18 months at a California Youth Authority facility after he and some friends were caught robbing a 7-Eleven convenience store in Corona.

Authorities said Walker donned a mask when he walked into the Bank of America at 11:22 a.m. He exited a few minutes later carrying a semiautomatic gun and a bag of money, officials said.

After a brief chase, he fled into a first-floor apartment, where he piled mattresses against the door, then set them on fire in an effort to create a diversion. Walker and sheriff's deputies eventually got into a shootout, and he was shot in the head and torso.

Strong said Walker was a good father who enjoyed taking their 3-year-old daughter for pizza or on trips to Disneyland and to movies.

But recently he got back into trouble with the law, she said, after a fight with another man that resulted in the attempted murder charge. Walker maintained that the fight was "mutual combat," she said.

Strong said she and Walker knew each other for 10 years. For a while, they lived together in Van Nuys as he tried to elude an arrest warrant in Riverside County.

Walker would have faced 24 years to life in prison if convicted of the attempted murder and other charges, something that weighed heavily on him and may have led him to rob the bank, Strong said.

"He figured he didn't have a chance in trial," she said. "He was going to end up doing life in prison and he didn't know any other way to take care of his family."

Strong found out about Walker's death when a friend saw a television report on the robbery.

"I was screaming. I was mad at him just because he figured he wasn't going to be here," she said.

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