Five months after homeless man was shot, Modesto tattoo shop owner faces murder charge

Mother’s emotional response as accused killer makes first court appearance

A Modesto, California tattoo shop owner was rearrested and charged with murder five months after he allegedly shot a homeless man outside his business on McHenry Avenue.
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A Modesto, California tattoo shop owner was rearrested and charged with murder five months after he allegedly shot a homeless man outside his business on McHenry Avenue.

A Modesto tattoo shop owner was rearrested and charged with murder five months after being released from jail because the District Attorney’s Office did not file charges in a shooting at his business.

Jeremy Don Fennell, 36, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the murder of 25-year-old Lawrence Walker. He also denied enhancements that he used a gun and that the crime was premeditated.

Fennell, who holds a concealed carry permit, called 911 on March 15 to report he’d shot a “homeless guy” who’d “attacked” him outside his business, Sin Cal Industries at 3117 McHenry Ave., according to court documents.

A video of the incident and an interview with Walker’s girlfriend Jessica Estrada, who witnessed the shooting, told a different version of events and Modesto police arrested Fennell.

However, Fennell was released from jail four days later. The District Attorney’s Office issued a statement saying, “Further investigation is necessary for a thorough review prior to a filing decision.”

“I got a phone call saying he’d been released and my heart broke even more,” Walker’s mother, Naomi Mills, said Wednesday at Stanislaus Superior Court as she waited for Fennell’s arraignment.

“I miss my baby so much,” Mills said. “He wasn’t a bad person. He just had some issues and he used drugs to kill the pain.”

She said Walker was the father of a 1-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl but that his son was adopted by family of Estrada.

Mills said Walker was still very much a part of his daughter’s life and that she regularly asks to see photos and videos of him.

“He was a great father; he loved his daughter and she loved him,” she said.

Mills said her son was homeless by choice, that he always had a place to come home to, but that she would not allow him to use drugs in her home.

Jeremy Fennell appears for an arraignment hearing at the Stanislaus County Superior Courthouse in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Fennell is charged with the murder of Lawrence Walker.

An arrest affidavit signed Tuesday by Modesto Police Department Detective Joshua Grant details conversations and writings by Fennell that indicate a disdain for the homeless and for drug users.

“Based on statements, surveillance video, Instagram records and historical (police body camera) video, your affiant believes Jeremy Don Fennell had a malicious predisposition at the time he confronted and ultimately shot and killed Lawrence Walker with a firearm,” the affidavit reads.

Estrada told detectives that they used heroin the morning of the shooting at the Walmart about a mile away and had decided to sit in the shade behind the tattoo parlor not long before Fennell drove up in his vehicle.

The affidavit details three police encounters with Fennell in which he is reporting burglaries and vandalism at his business during the 13 months before the shooting.

In conversations recorded on police body cameras, Fennell’s comments about homeless people include his desire to put them all in a stadium to “burn it down” and calling them “the filthiest, nastiest people” he’s ever met.

According to the affidavit, several days prior to the shooting, a post from Fennell’s Instagram account told followers to stop helping the homeless, and that people’s donations only end up as trash in the back of businesses like his that “real humans with real lives” are forced to clean up.

The post goes on to say that all the homeless want are “... back packs to steal s--- and hoodies to hide their pathetic nasty faces while they do those crimes .... If we can not kill them all like we can other pests then we must not feed the wild drug addicts.”

A description in the affidavit of surveillance video of the shooting details a brief encounter in which Fennell approaches the couple, Walker stands up and Fennell takes a few steps back, then draws his .40 caliber Glock 27 handgun and points it at Walker.

“Walker appeared to take one small step forward before coming to a stop,” the affidavit reads. “A few seconds later, Walker appeared to take a side step to his left. Shortly after, Fennell fired one shot at Walker causing Walker to fall to the ground.”

The video did not have audio, but Estrada gave this account to Detective Grant of words that were exchanged:

The couple saw Fennell approaching with a black handgun wrapped in a sweatshirt tucked under his left arm.

After a brief conversation about them leaving, Fennell said, “Watch it f--got. You need to get your homeless s--- and get the f--- out of here.”

That’s when Walker stood up and Fennell drew his gun and said, “Whoa. Don’t get ballsy kid. Don’t come any closer.”

Estrada said Walker took a small step and Fennell again told him not to get any closer; Walker took no additional steps, but Fennell shot him.

Fennell declined a request by The Bee to be interviewed. The request was made through the Sheriff’s Department as he remained in custody Wednesday.

Fennell’s attorney, Kirk McAllister, requested a hearing to discuss his bail, which is set at $3 million. He is scheduled to return to court Aug. 28 for that hearing.

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