Shooting death basketball
Claudell Garland Walter. Photo credit: Screen shot, abc7.com

A convicted felon who gunned down a youth basketball coach because he believed the man had stolen drugs from him was convicted this week of first-degree murder.

The coach, Claudell Garland Walter, 38, was well-known through his work in basketball leagues throughout Southern California, including in San Diego County.

A Murrieta jury deliberated three days before finding Othelon Dale Lyons guilty Tuesday in the June 2019 slaying of Walter, of Menifee.

The panel also found true a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait.

Lyons, of Los Angeles, is expected to receive life in prison without the possibility of parole when he’s sentenced by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer on April 15 at the Southwest Justice Center.

He is being held without bail at the nearby Byrd Detention Center.

Jury deliberations began Dec. 29 and continued the next day, with a break for New Year’s, then resumed Monday. Jurors went behind closed doors again Tuesday morning, but deliberated less than an hour before announcing a verdict.

According to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, the defendant was a reputed drug trafficker and targeted Walter because he believed the victim, who also worked as a truck driver, had stolen drugs.

“Claudell Walter was a well-respected local youth basketball coach,” according to a trial brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Marcus Garrett. “He frequently traveled to basketball tournaments throughout Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties. His friends and family deny any knowledge of him being involved in any illegal activity of any kind.”

It was unclear whether the defendant and victim had ever met.

According to the prosecution, in May 2019, Lyons began a surveillance of Walter, attaching a GPS tracking device to the underside of the man’s Chevrolet Silverado pickup. The beacon provided real-time information on the victim’s movements, fed to the defendant’s mobile phone, Garrett said.

On the night of June 1, 2019, Lyons drove to the victim’s house in the 29000 block of Light Sails Court, just east of Menifee Road, and waited for Walter to return from Garden Grove, according to Garrett.

The victim and his 13-year-old son arrived home at about 10 p.m.

Garrett said that the moment the victim stepped out of his pickup, Lyons “sprang from his concealed location and shot Claudell twice in the chest” with a 9mm pistol, then fled.

The victim’s son was not hurt. Walter died a short time later at Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar.

Detectives were able to obtain images from a security surveillance camera, capturing the Ford Explorer that the defendant was driving, according to the prosecution. However, the investigation took six months before detectives procured sufficient evidence to identify the defendant as the shooter, culminating in his arrest.

Investigators then collected video and audio recordings from the Byrd Detention Center, in which Lyons had multiple conversations with fellow inmates, according to the brief.

The defendant incriminated himself with references to removing fingerprints from the ammunition and the phone that he used to monitor the GPS device attached to the victim’s pickup, according to the prosecution.

Lyons has a prior conviction in Kern County for spousal abuse, according to court records.

City News Service