March 5, 2014

Where are they now? A look at major players in the Nancy Morgan case

Many are dead. One is in prison. The man once accused of the crime has dropped out of sight.

In 2009, I had lunch with Ed Walker, whom I hadn’t seen for years. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was tanned, relaxed and upbeat. He had a job he liked, involving travel. Walker said he had mellowed over the years and had largely put the murder trial behind him. He and his daughter had even held a ceremonial bonfire and destroyed all his files on the case. He has disappeared and no longer responds to my emails.

Joe Huff, Walker’s defender, practiced law for another decade after the acquittal. He died in 2002.

E.Y. Ponder and his brother Zeno also have died. Ironically, the Ponder clan in the new century has returned to high places in Madison County, though in a transformed way. In 2009, two members of the new generation sat on the county commission, a third was mayor of Marshall, and a fourth was director of the county elections board. But none of these public figures was an offspring of Zeno or E.Y. The cohesive Ponder machine long ago disappeared.

Richard Johnson remains in the North Carolina prison system and has little chance of parole. Johnny Waldroup lives in Tennessee.

Now, as a former community organizer inhabits the White House, it seems Nancy Morgan’s VISTA work has come full circle in Madison County. Duke University has established a student-staffed summer program for young people in the Spring Creek area. The project has had its challenges, some of which would be familiar to the VISTAs and all those who went before. But those students are doing well.

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