Seth Smith was fatally shot in Berkeley in June as he walked on Dwight Way. Photo: Michelle Rode-Smith

The Alameda County district attorney’s office filed felony charges Monday against 60-year-old Berkeley resident Tony Walker in the June killing of 19-year-old Cal student Seth Smith.

Smith had been walking on Dwight Way in southwest Berkeley when someone approached him from behind and shot him at close range in the back of the head without warning or provocation, authorities have said.

On Monday, the DA’s office charged Walker with murder and several other felony firearms violations, according to court records reviewed by Berkeleyside. Walker, a felon on probation who lived within a few hundred feet of where the homicide happened, at Dwight Way and Valley Street, was prohibited from having guns or ammunition because of his criminal record.

Smith was killed Monday, June 15, during one of his regular walks in Berkeley. He lived about a mile east of where he was killed.

“My son never felt like there was anywhere in Berkeley that was unsafe to walk,” his mother, Michelle Rode-Smith, told Berkeleyside on Monday.

Before his death, Smith had been home with his family in the Sacramento area for about three months. But his parents brought him back to Berkeley in early June because he and some of his roommates were moving into a different part of the home they had shared for about a year.

Even when school was in session, Smith would often bus or walk from his home near campus up to the Amtrak station in West Berkeley to head home for the weekend to see his family. The week before he was killed, his mother had texted him to see if he planned to come home for the weekend of June 13-14.

Smith texted back that he and his friends were still waiting for some new roommates to move in. He wanted to stay a bit longer to see them for some bonding time.

They had planned a group hike. But he said he’d come home two weeks later.

“We’ll see you on the 25th,” his mom wrote back. “Be safe. I love you.”

It was their last communication.

Charges filed Monday

As of Monday, Walker was still in custody at Santa Rita Jail and was scheduled for arraignment Tuesday at the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin, according to booking records.

According to charging papers, investigators had obtained a warrant Thursday to arrest Walker on suspicion of murder and probation violation. That day, they found Walker outside his home in the 1400 block of Dwight Way (near Acton Street) and took him into custody.

Documents related to the case say nothing about the circumstances of the homicide except that Smith was found in front of 1360 Dwight Way. He had been shot in the head and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The charges filed against Walker include a long list of felony convictions, including multiple strikes, dating back more than 40 years.

In 1979, according to court records, Walker was convicted of burglary. In the ’80s, he was convicted of burglary, vehicle theft and multiple robbery counts. In the ’90s, there were additional robbery convictions.

In 2001, Walker was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. His next conviction came in 2016 when he was found guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon. He was placed on probation.

Berkeleyside will continue to follow the criminal case through the court system.

“I wish I had him back,” mother says

Seth Smith on a high school graduation trip to Europe. Photo: Michelle Rode-Smith

Since her son’s killing, Rode-Smith has posted often on Twitter to keep the case alive. On Monday, she told Berkeleyside the arrest had given her some measure of comfort. But there’s still a long road ahead.

“I was definitely relieved,” she said. “But also, it’s such mixed feelings. Now we can see how we can get this to a resolution.”

Rode-Smith said both she and her son were stalwart supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. So it had been difficult to see that an older Black man had been arrested for the crime, she said. Walker, she said, had likely suffered a lot in his life and must have “harbored so much anger about what’s happening in the world.”

But it didn’t make what happened to Seth any easier to bear, she said: “It doesn’t give you the right to take my child’s life.”

Rode-Smith said she does not, however, want to see her son’s killing used as fodder by those who want to fan the flames of racial divisiveness.

“Let’s get rid of the hate, period,” she said. “Nobody should feel anger and hatred toward another human because of what they look like.”

“I don’t hate anyone,” Rode-Smith continued, trying to hold back tears. “But I certainly am frustrated and I wish I had my son back.”

Police have asked anyone with information that may be relevant to the case to call BPD’s Homicide Unit at 510-981-5741.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...