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story.lead_photo.caption Walter James Bryan

BENTONVILLE -- A circuit judge has refused to reduce the bail for a murder defendant who contracted covid-19 while in the Benton County jail.

Walter James Bryan, 21, is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated robbery, intimidating a witness and tampering with physical evidence. He is being held in the jail in lieu of a $1 million cash bond.

He is accused in the fatal shooting of Tyler Scott Garska. Garska, 22, was found dead Nov. 20, 2018, in a room at the Super 8 Motel in Bentonville, according to a probable-cause affidavit.

Scott Parks, Bryan's attorney, asked Judge Brad Karren on Tuesday to reduce Bryan's bail to $25,000. Parks told the judge his client has covid-19 and wants to seek treatment outside jail. Parks said Bryan is being held in a quarantine pod with other inmates who have the coronavirus, which causes the disease.

The Benton County sheriff's office reported 189 inmates and 14 employees at the Benton County jail tested positive as of June 22. Lt. Shannon Jenkins, public information officer, said Wednesday that those numbers haven't changed.

Danyelle McNeill, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Health, said the most recent tests at the jail were the ones in June.

Stuart Cearley, chief deputy prosecutor, objected to reducing Bryan's bond. Cearley told the judge that Bryan was free on citation in two other criminal cases and free in another case at the time of the shooting.

Karren denied Parks' request and said Bryan will receive appropriate medical care while in jail.

Bryan told police that he and Garska were wrestling and Garska later "did that Russian roulette thing and shot himself in the head," according to the affidavit.

Bryan said he took Garska's ring, necklace, cologne and a jacket, according to court documents.

Another witness in the room said Bryan and Garska were wrestling on a bed, but the struggle was serious. Garska fell to the floor, and the witness saw Bryan shoot him as he was getting up, according to the affidavit.

Two other witnesses in the room said they thought Garska shot himself. One of the witnesses said that after the shooting, Bryan threatened to kill him and pointed a stolen AR-15 rifle at him, according to the affidavit.

Bryan's jury trial was reset to Jan. 5.

Bryan could be sentenced from 10 to 40 years or life if convicted of the murder and robbery charges. He faces from three to 10 years in prison if convicted of intimidating a witness, and up to six years in prison for the tampering charge.


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