Son of shooting rampage victim fights to change state law

April 29, 2013 8:17:22 PM PDT
It's one of our state's most notorious shooting rampages.

UNC law student Wendell Williamson, a lone gunman, shot and killed two people on Henderson Street in Chapel Hill, injuring others back in 1995.

Now, the son of one of victims has turned to ABC11 for help in his fight to change state law.

It all started with some serious questions about the book written by his father's killer and where the money, if any, was going.

Chaz Walker never got to know his father, because of that day in 1995.

"He went out to his mailbox, grabbed his mail," said Walker.

That was just as Williamson, armed with an M1 rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, walked down the street shooting at anyone he saw.  When it was over, a police officer was wounded, UNC student Kevin Reichardt was dead, and so was Ralph Walker Jr.

"That was the first person that Wendell set his sights on and wanted to take action," said Walker.

A jury found Williamson not guilty by reason of insanity, and from the state mental health hospital, he wrote a book, a first-person account of the paranoid schizophrenia that drove him to murder.

Walker's search to learn more about his father raised more questions about the book.

"I wanted to know where the proceeds were going because no one ever directed any questions towards me or my family about what had happened to the proceeds," said Walker.

At the time, the publisher said Williamson's book was meant to raise awareness about the dangers of untreated mental illness, but that publisher, a nonprofit called the Mental Health Communication Network, no longer exists and hasn't for years.

And yet, the nonprofit is still listed on Amazon.com. We learned Williamson sold the rights ten years ago to a North Carolina businessman, who asked to remain anonymous, but issued this statement, "Mr. Chaz Walker asked me to sign legal ownership of this work to him, and I respectfully declined. To be absolutely clear, Mr. Williamson has not received any proceeds from any sale of these books, ever. I have earned no revenue from sale of these books beyond their costs of production and distribution."

"What if it would've been an Amazon best seller," asked Walker. "What then? It's really irrelevant whether it made one penny or zero. No one asked for my permission, or the Reichardts, if this was alright with us."

Advocates of the book say Williamson has a first amendment right to share his side of the story.

North Carolina has a victims' rights act, and a law that says convicted criminals shouldn't profit from their crimes, but it doesn't apply to Williamson because he was never convicted.

Legal experts say it's a state law without it teeth.

"Many people have heard of the Son of Sam Law and they think that's a protection that they're naturally going to have. That it's a federal law," said Raleigh attorney Jerome Trehy. "But, it's really only a state law and North Carolina doesn't have a similar law that would protect victims."

Trehy would know. He represented convicted murderer Michael Peterson's stepdaughter in a wrongful death lawsuit, which is about the only option victims and their families have to stop others from profiting from crime.

With a more than a $200,000 state lien against him, which grows each year, it's unlikely Williamson would ever profit from the book. Walker, however, worries someone else could.

"There isn't an authority that's responsible for this and I feel like that's the problem also," said Walker.

Walker has taken his fight all the way to the state legislature, talking to lawmakers, asking for help.

"I really wanted to stop this from happening," said Walker. "If I address it on this level, maybe no one else will have to go through it."

Walker recently met his father's killer soon after Williamson was granted more unsupervised trips outside the mental hospital.

"Wendell's proximity to my house is very close," he said. "It's less than 20 miles."

Frustrated, Walker feels Williamson has more privileges than his victims.

Shortly after the shooting rampage, the family of Reichardt filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Williamson. It was settled out of court.

The publisher of the book tells ABC11 that sales have been flat, mostly used for college psych courses.

ABC11 reached out to Williamson for an interview, but through his attorney, he declined the request.

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