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Man convicted of killing two people, including Memphis Police officer

Officer Verdell Smith was hit and killed by a stolen car driven by Justin Welch shortly after Welch shot 39-year-old Joshua Walton on North Main.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis man has been convicted of killing a Memphis Police officer and another man.

Tuesday, 26-year-old Justin Welch, aka Justine Welch, was found guilty of killing Sgt. Verdell Smith and Joshua Walton in 2016. 

On the night of June 4, 2016, Officer Smith was hit and killed by a stolen car driven by Welch shortly after Welch shot 39-year-old Joshua Walton on North Main where he was with his wife and family. Walton died of his injuries 13 months later. According to the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office, witnesses said Welch walked up to a group of people eating outdoors at Westy’s Restaurant at 346 N. Main St. and --without warning-- began shooting at close range. He shot Walton in the neck and shot a second customer, a 57-year-old Cordova man, three times in the face.

The DA’s office said Welch then ran off toward Bass Pro where he got into the second stolen car, drove up to a 21-year-old employee and began firing without warning. The young man from Olive Branch, Miss., was struck in the left forearm as he raised it to cover his face. Another bullet struck his cellphone in his pocket.

With police chasing him, Welch sped the wrong way on Third Street. As his car approached Beale Street, police quickly began clearing the street. Sgt. Smith was herding pedestrians to safety when Welch’s speeding vehicle struck and killed him.

Welch was convicted on one count of first-degree murder, one count of vehicular homicide, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of employment of a firearm in the commission of a dangerous felony, and one count of intentionally evading arrest in an automobile when risk of death or serious injury was high.

Welch was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder conviction and will be sentenced on the other convictions on September 23 by Judge W. Mark Ward.