On the morning of June 27, 1939, Benjamin “Duke’ Ginyard and William Walker robbed J.P. Saunders’ wholesale grocery at 119 Dahlem St. in East Liberty. They arrived at the scene in a stolen car.
While Walker was emptying the cash register in the front of the store, police officer Edward Conway, 39, and his partner entered the rear of the store. Ginyard met them there with gunfire. Conway was killed.
Ginyard, 25, and Walker, 24, both Southern-born migrants, had extensive criminal records for property and gun crimes and were on parole at the time of the killing.
Immediately after the killing, police in East Liberty put out a dragnet, “one of the most thorough in the history of the city,” arresting at least 25 Black men. Included was William Walker. Under intensive questioning by police, Walker confessed and implicated Ginyard.
Shortly afterwards, Ginyard was arrested in his Brushton home.
Walker, who claimed that he was unaware of any plan to use deadly force, pleaded guilty to murder on October 9, 1939, and testified against Ginyard. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Western Penitentiary.
Ginyard pleaded not guilty. Faced with the testimony of Conway’s partner, Thomas Cox, Walker, and eyewitnesses, as well as physical evidence linking him to the crime, Ginyard was convicted on October 11, 1939, and sentenced to death.
Benjamin Ginyard went to the electric chair on January 29, 1940, only seven months after Conway’s murder. In a breach of state policy, Officer Cox and Officer Conway’s brother were allowed to witness the execution.
William Walker was paroled in 1960. Throughout his time in prison and beyond, he maintained that he was unaware that he was pleading guilty to murder, that he was poorly represented by counsel, and that he was coerced into the robbery by Ginyard.
In 1973, Walker filed a request for post-conviction review of his guilty plea. The trial court rejected his request, though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed that decision (Commonwealth v. Walker, 460 Pa. 658, 1975). His guilty plea was subsequently sustained.
In 1978, Walker sought a reversal of his conviction and a retrial (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 24, 1978). That effort also ultimately failed (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 8, 1978).