High court upholds conviction in 2015 Richmond County murder

Walter G. Salvesen III
Walter G. Salvesen III(Contributed)
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 12:45 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the murder conviction of a Richmond County suspect who claimed he was acting in self-defense.

Walter G. Salvesen III was convicted of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the 2015 shooting death of Johnathan Martin. Salvesen was sentenced Salvesen to life in prison without parole on the murder count and five consecutive years on the other count.

Evidence presented at trial showed Salvesen and Martin were friends who occasionally experienced “falling outs.”

Salvesen testified that in June 2015, the two men got into a “long argument” and Martin threatened Salvesen and his family and looked toward a gun on a nearby table.

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According to Salvesen, he didn’t know whether the gun was loaded but was afraid Martin would get it first.

As Martin allegedly reached for the gun, Salvesen said he grabbed it and started firing. Salvesen said he believed the first shot hit Martin in the chest, but he kept firing because Martin was still moving toward him.

Salvesen fired five rounds. Three bullets hit a wall. The other two struck Martin, one in the head and the other in the chest, one or both of which resulted in his death.

Salvesen testified that after the shooting, he was “freaking out,” wrapped the body in a tarp and dumped it in the woods in Burke County.

A Burke County landowner found the body in August 2015.

READ THE FULL RULING:

At trial, Salvesen asserted that he acted in self-defense, but the jury found him guilty of all counts.

In his appeal, Salvesen contended the trial court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence, over his objection, photos taken where Martin’s body was found and photos taken during the autopsy.

While Salvesen conceded the photos were “technically relevant” to show that Martin died, he argued they should have been excluded because they were cumulative of other evidence, given that he admitted shooting Martin and that the cause of death was not at issue.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said the photos showing Martin’s wounds were not unduly prejudicial, corroborated prosecutors’ evidence and were useful for the jury to understand why the medical examiner couldn’t determine which gunshot wound killed Martin.

While admitting some of the photos “can be fairly described as gruesome or gory,” the Supreme Court found Salvesen failed to show that the photos should have been excluded. Justices disagreed that the trial court abused its broad discretion in admitting them.

The Supreme Court also said the photos “provided a concrete depiction of Salvesen’s considerable efforts to conceal his act of shooting and killing Martin” and “rebutted Salvesen’s claim of self-defense by allowing the jury to infer that Salvesen ‘believed he had done something wrong.’”

The Supreme Court also disagreed with Salvesen that the trial court erred when it failed to recharge the jury on the lesser offenses of voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter when recharging on malice murder and felony murder.

The Supreme Court also disagreed with Salvesen’s claim that his lawyer was ineffective.

Salvesen is currently being held at Telfair State Prison.