Stabbing victim speaks on Walker plea deal

Joe Benardo was stabbed multiple times in the arm, chest, and abodmen my Johnathan Walker on March 2. He remained in a cast for sometime after stabbing.

Joe Benardo (left) said he considered Johnathan Walker (right) a friend. The two had previously lived together several years ago. Benardo said this photo was taken approximately 35-40 minutes before the stabbing.

Sigourney, Iowa- On April 27, Johnathan Walker entered an Alford Plea to felony Willful Injury. As part of a plea agreement, County Attorney John Schroeder will ask at Walker’s July sentencing that he be sentenced to a suspended five-year prison term, and in lieu of prison time, be sentenced to supervised probation. However, Joseph Benardo, the man who was stabbed by Walker, says that is not enough.


In a recent interview with the News-Review, Benardo said that he knew Walker prior to the attack and had considered him a close friend before.


“There was a time we were like brothers, shared an apartment together in Marengo. We were close,” Benardo said.


He added that around March 2, Walker contacted him and Bernardo offered to let him come move in with him.


“He told me he was in a bad way, a bad spot,” Benardo said.


On the night of the stabbing, Benardo said that he, Walker, and Walker’s girlfriend were going to meet someone about a possible construction job for Walker. Benardo said that he had let Walker drive his car. As they were driving back to Benardo’s home in What Cheer, he said that Walker pulled over and asked him to drive. As Bernardo walked around the car to hop in the driver’s seat, Walker stabbed him in the chest.


“I was dumbstruck. I didn’t see this coming. There was no provoking,” Benardo said.


After he was stabbed, Benardo said Walker grabbed a baseball bat out of the trunk of Benardo’s car and started to chase him, stabbing him with the knife along the way. Eventually, Benardo said he slumped down into a ditch.


“He kept hitting me with my bat and I was like ‘John, why are doing this to me John, you’re killing me John.’ I laid there with my arm over, he got a couple more swings in, I just tried not to move at this point, because I saw my arm deformed. He went to the car and then he took off up to a house up the road,” Benardo said.


Walker fled with Benardo’s car, and cell phone. After he fled, Benardo said he staggered through a ditch, trying to make it to a nearby house to call for help.


“I’m trying to get to that house, it was the closest thing I could see. My cell phone was in my car. I couldn’t make it to that house. I was tired. I was so tired. I was drained of energy. My mouth was dry. I fell over my own feet on the blacktop and I didn’t have the strength to get up. And that’s where I laid,” Benardo said.


Keokuk County Deputies were dispatched to the scene in reference to a 911 call. They found Benardo laying on the pavement on the highway. Benardo said he remembers asking the deputy to warn his wife.


“I saw black boots, red lights, I said over and over, my address and I said ‘Johnny Walker did this. Warn Jodi, my wife,’” he said.


Walker was transported to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for treatment of his wounds. He was released the morning after the stabbing, something Walker’s defense attorney tried to use to his client’s benefit in arguing for a reduced bail. Benardo said that the reason why he was released so early was because he had been through a traumatic incident, an operation at the hospital and was able to do exactly what the nurse told him he needed to do to leave.


“I’d just been through a very traumatic ordeal. I was afraid,” Benardo said.


Walker was arrested on March 3 and charged with Attempted Murder. Not long after the stabbing and Walker’s eventual arrest, Benardo said he met with County Attorney John Schroeder about the case.


“When I first talked to the County Attorney, he made it a point to tell me that according to Mr. Walker, it was a drug deal gone bad. Attorney Schroeder said to me, ‘even if that were the case, look at how many times he stabbed you, it’s clearly attempted murder.’ He was going to prosecute. I shook his hand and I said thank you,” Benardo said.


Benardo and his wife also strongly disagreed with Walker’s claim that it was a drug deal gone bad. Benardo said that it was an unprovoked attack and to this day, he doesn’t understand what he did to warrant it.


“Just 35-40 minutes before the incident, he took a picture with me. Buddy-buddy. What changed? The drive home? How did we go from buddy-buddy arm in arm, to he can’t even say he’s sorry, he can’t even say anything,” Benardo said.


Life went on for Benardo through March and April, as he slowly tried to come to grip with what had happened. Benardo said that because of his injuries, he wasn’t able to continue working in his construction job at this time.


“It’s beautiful weather, I’m supposed to be working. Can’t do any of it. I walk with a limp. I can’t hold nails. I’m scared to even try to use a saw. Can’t get up a ladder. Can’t climb and fix a roof. I can’t enjoy what I used to enjoy, outside working,” he said.


Benardo said he was slowly getting accustomed to the changes in his life and slowly starting to deal with the stress/flashbacks from that fateful evening. Then on week of April 23, a deputy sheriff knocked on his door. Benardo said that the deputy had been sent due to difficulties in reaching him due to still not having a replacement cell phone. Benardo said that he was asked to contact County Attorney John Schroeder regarding the case.


“Call him, and he just tells me matter of factly, he’s offered this plea deal, he’s already done this. I’m more than welcome to come down to his office to discuss this,” Benardo said. “I said I don’t agree. I told him I don’t agree. My bills, my rent, my life is affected by this incident,” he also said.


Benardo also alleged that he was told by County Attorney John Schroeder that he did not believe Benardo’s story.


“Rather coldly, he said that quite basically and frankly, he doesn’t believe my part of the story, that was basically it,” he said.


Benardo decried the plea agreement with Walker, saying it simply isn’t enough.


“Four months in jail, five years’ probation for stabbing somebody 17 times and beating them with a bat 12 times, leaving them in a ditch for dead and taking off with their car. That’s justice here? That’s what kind of citizen I am, that’s what my life is worth in this county?” Benardo said, showing emotion over the plea agreement.


Benardo said he fears Walker will come back and “finish the job”. He said he is curious as to how to prevent this from happening again.


“So how do we prevent this from happening again? Nobody knows. Whose responsibility is it to find out? Is it Joe Benardo’s responsibility to find out? Or is it the Court’s? Whose responsibility is it to protect me? Is it Joe Benardo’s responsibility? Or is it the legal system?” Benardo asked.


He pondered what it would take to have justice in his case.


“Why so lenient a sentence? Because he didn’t finish the job? If I die, if those officers were late and I died, would I have justice then? Is that what I need? To die for justice. Or to be upheld by a citizen of this community. Do I not live here like everyone else? Do I not abide by the same laws as everyone else?” he asked. 


For his part, County Attorney John Schroeder said he empathized with Benardo and what he has gone through the past two months. However, Schroeder said that only three people know what happened on the night of the stabbing- Benardo, Walker, and Walker’s girlfriend Jamie Flak.


“None of these crimes prove themselves. I don’t know and I cannot prove what happened,” Schroeder said of the crime.


Schroeder added that in a case like this, he is left with searching for the facts and trying to secure a conviction.


“I’m left with the task with what I can prove and attempting to get that accomplished,” Schroeder said.


Schroeder also added in a written statement that he believed the plea agreement was the best opportunity to secure a conviction.


“I arrived at the terms and conditions of the Johnathan James Ray Walker plea agreement based upon my assessment of the available crimes, respective elements of each crime, standard of proof, evidence and available defenses.  I concluded that the plea agreement provides the best opportunity to secure a felony conviction based upon the foregoing considerations,” Schroeder said.


For more on this story, catch the May 9 edition of the News-Review.