Shonda Walter, Pennsylvania 


Updated: Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Shonda Walter was the only woman on Pennsylvania's death row. In 2016, Shonda had her sentenced reduced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole. Clinton County Senior Judge Michael Williamson threw out Shonda's death sentence citing "totally incompetent counsel in the penalty phase" during her trial. Prosecutors had agreed not to seek the death penalty against Shonda again.

Updated: Monday, May 2, 2016 1:08 pm EDT

Shonda Dee Walter's execution was scheduled to occur at 7 pm EDT, on Tuesday, May 3, 2016, at the State Correctional Institute Rockview, in Rockview, Pennsylvania. Her execution has been stayed. Thirty-six-year-old Shonda has been convicted of the brutal murder of 83-year-old World War II veteran James Sementelli in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania on March 25, 2003. She has spent the last ten years of her life on Pennsylvania’s death row.

Shonda’s execution has been stayed by the Clinton County Court of Common Pleas.

Shonda did not have any significant prior criminal history. Several witnesses testified that she was a good student and a kind person. Shonda’s mother also said that she was a good mother to her child. Allegedly, Shonda was in debt and thought that by killing a man and robbing him, she would be able to get enough money to get out of debt and that it could also serve as initiation into a gang.


On March 31, 2003, the body of James Sementelli was discovered inside of his Lock Haven home. James had received over 60 knife wounds, 18 fractures, and 45 bruises. His left ear was nearly severed from his head, his right eye had been punctured, and a cross had been carved into his stomach. There were numerous wounds indicating that he had tried to defend himself.


Police were able to determine, from newspapers left on his porch, that he had been killed on March 25, 2003. A neighbor informed police that she had seen Shonda Dee Walter outside of James’ home that night, taking on a cordless telephone. Walter’s mother confirmed that Walter had left the house with phone, returning it later. Along with the phone, Walter had left a note saying she was staying with a friend, Michelle Mathis.


Shanee Gaines was also at Michelle’s house that night, babysitting. Michelle, an alleged member of the Bloods street gang, was in the hospital due to an altercation earlier in the day. Shanee testified that Walter had arrived at Michelle’s home driving a white vehicle, later identified as having belonged to James. Shanee also noticed that Walter had blood on her head and on rubber gloves that she was wearing. Walter went to shower, during which time Michelle returned home. The three women then left in James’ vehicle.


During the drive, Walter confessed that she had brutally killed James, explaining that she had continued to slash him while he pleaded for help. Walter took Michelle and Shanee to James’ home and showed them the body. Walter told them she wanted to remove evidence from the scene and dispose of the body. Shanee refused to help, returning to the vehicle. When Walter and Michelle returned to the vehicle, Walter had a container of coins that totaled $510.25. Walter disposed of the hatchet by throwing it into the woods during their drive back to Michelle’s home, where the three women proceeded to smoke marijuana.


A few days later, Shanee, Shanee’s friend Aaron Jones, and Michelle accompanied Walter as she drove to Philadelphia in an attempt to sell the vehicle, claiming it had belonged to her deceased father. The sale was unsuccessful, and Walter allowed Aaron to drive the vehicle home. During the drive, police stopped the vehicle. Shanee become concerned that Aaron would be implicated in the murder of James. Aaron knew nothing of James’ murder. Shanee contacted the police, telling them what she knew.


The hatchet used in the murder was recovered a few days later, with James’ blood on it. The hatchet had belonged to one of Walter’s friends, who noticed it missing after Walter had attended a party at the house. Walter had also been seen with the hatchet prior to the murder.


Stephen’s notice of execution was issued by Department of Corrections Secretary John Wentzel, as Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has refused to sign any execution warrants. If the Governor does not sign an execution notice within a specified time frame, state law requires the corrections secretary to issue the execution notice.


On Friday, February 13, 2015, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced a moratorium on executions in the state, until he receives and reviews a report on capital punishment in the state, a report which was ordered in 2011. In his announcement, he called the death penalty in Pennsylvania a "flawed system," "ineffective," "unjust," and "expensive." Read more about the announcement here.


Please pray for peace and healing for the family of James Sementelli. Please pray for strength for the family of Shonda. Please pray that if Shonda is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason, that evidence will be presented prior to her execution. Please pray that Shonda will come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if she has not already.



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