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California Conman Convicted In Attempted Wood Chipper Murder-For-Hire Of Judge

“He wanted these people dead, he obsessed about it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Sheppard said of John Walthall’s jailhouse revenge plot, which involved shoving U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford into a wood chipper.

By Dorian Geiger
Judge Gavel G

A 66-year-old California conman was found guilty last week for attempting to orchestrate the revenge murders of federal agents, a prosecutor and a judge.

John Arthur Walthall was convicted on Friday during a retrial for his role in the murder-for-hire scheme of a U.S. district judge, two Assistant U.S. Attorneys and two FBI agents while serving a 14-year federal sentence related to a fake gold-mining scheme, according to court documents. Jurors deliberated for under three hours before rendering the verdict, the Orange County Register reported.

Walthal was implicated by fellow inmates, who tipped off the FBI regarding the suspected murder-for-hire plot that involved the kidnapping and torture of U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford. According to court documents, Walthall hoped that by abducting the judge, he could force the man into officially exonerating him, the Los Angeles Times reported

He was later recorded by an undercover agent saying he wanted Guilford to suffer a “nice and painful death” by “shoving him in an [expletive] wood chipper.” 

He added he wanted FBI agents and federal prosecutors “killed on the spot” by a hit squad. Walthall had allegedly offered $1 million for the killing of each victim, per court documents. 

“He wanted these people dead, he obsessed about it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Sheppard said in court this week, the Mercury News reported. “He was willing to con whoever it took to make it happen.”

Walthall was originally convicted in 2016 in the murder-for-hire plot and sentenced to an additional 20 years in prison. However, the ruling was overturned after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that that the lower court had erred by failing to disclose to Walthall his right to self-representation, according to the Los Angeles Times. The convicted swindler had disavowed his former defense attorney, Timothy Scott, whom he accused of gross negligence. 

“I’m just amazed you can take my life from me,” Walthall said in court at the time, according to the Orange County Register. “I did not commit any crime. I said what I said under duress, under threat of being attacked.”

His current defense attorney, Charles Brown, meanwhile, blasted the state’s jailhouse recordings and the entire plot to kill judges, prosecutors and FBI agents as “absolutely, 100 percent not plausible,” according to the Orange County Register. Brown accused Walthall’s fellow prisoners of manipulating him and both “planting the seeds” and “fanning the flames” of the murder-for-hire plot.

“Words alone are not a crime,” Brown said, who painted his client as a victim. “Words alone are not enough… this isn’t a crime, it is a fantasy, a fiction.”

Walthall, however, had a history, prosecutors said, of seeking revenge against police officials related to his legal woes. While his fraud trial was pending in 2011, he reportedly purchased three guns and a silencer and scouted body disposal sites in a separate alleged assassination scheme of law enforcement officers. 

The California man was originally convicted in 2012 of defrauding an elderly Orange County couple of $5.5 million in a fraudulent gold investment scheme. He skipped out on trial proceedings in June 2011 but was later apprehended in Nevada with a gun and a book entitled, “How to Be Invisible,” federal prosecutors said.

Walthall’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 8. His attorney wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by Oxygen.com on Monday afternoon. A spokesperson for the FBI also declined to comment on the open case this week. 

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