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Delaware killer serving life denied commutation

DOVER, Del. — The state Board of Pardons on Thursday rejected a commutation request from a killer who kidnapped and robbed a man, then tied him to a tree and left him to die.

James Waller was sentenced to life in prison in 1978 for the kidnapping, robbery and murder of 67-year-old John W. Horstman of Laurel.

Waller, now 67 himself, told the Board of Pardons on Thursday that he is in poor health and would like to spend his remaining time helping others.

“My health is bad. I’m still recovering from open-heart surgery,” said Waller, wearing a white prison jumpsuit and leg shackles.

“I’m a changed person than I was 34 years ago,” added Waller, who blamed the crime on alcohol abuse.

“I’m not going to drink no more,” he vowed. “I used to drink all the time.”

But the board was unmoved by Waller’s testimony, voting unanimously not to recommend that Gov. Jack Markell commute his life sentence.

“That recommendation is based on the nature of the crime, which was horrific, and the suffering that the victim underwent,” Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, chairman of the pardons board, told Waller.

According to court documents, Waller and several other people met Horstman at a corner lot in Laurel where people often gathered to drink. Waller then asked Horstman if he wanted to have sex with Waller’s sister.

After Horstman accepted the offer, Waller and five other people piled into Horstman’s truck and drove off. Waller’s sister later told Horstman she had to get out of the truck for a moment. After Horstman stopped the truck, Waller got out, opened the driver’s door and began hitting Horstman. Waller then drove the truck to a wooded area, where the group robbed Horstman and then marched him deep into the woods.

Horstman was then bound and gagged, with his arms and legs tied behind him around a tree. The group also tied a shirt around the tree that covered Horstman’s face and head before leaving.

Horstman’s skeletal remains were found six weeks later.

“Are you the one who tied him to the tree?” Denn asked Waller.

“Yes,” Waller replied.

Deputy attorney general Dennis Kelleher said Waller and his co-defendants left Horstman to die of starvation, dehydration and exposure.

Kelleher argued against Waller’s commutation request, and said Waller has done nothing while in prison to improve himself, such as getting an educational diploma.

Waller said he has tried to take advantage of such programs but that he has been unable to do so because of his health.

“I can’t remember things,” he said. “It puts too much stress on my heart.”