The white supremacist suspected in the Christmas night murder of a popular Liberty storekeeper is in the Liberty County Jail, following his arrest in Tyler County.
Thirty-one-year-old Stevie “Bubba” Walder is charged with Capital Murder and could face the death penalty if convicted of killing store owner and Liberty resident Naushad Virani, 50.
The shooting occurred at Virani’s “Chubby’s Happy Chap” convenience store on N. Main St. in Liberty.
Walder wears an eerie grin in his Liberty County Jail booking photo.
Liberty Police Chief Billy Tidwell and Spokesman Hugh Bishop held a press conference on Monday.
Bishop said Walder is not cooperating with local law enforcement, although Tyler County authorities indicated he made statements to them implicating himself at the time of his arrest.
A search warrant executed on the truck Walder was driving when arrested turned up weapons that are being tested to determine whether they were used during the shooting, Bishop said. Security video shows Walder committing the crime, he said.
The truck was stolen from Walder’s first-cousin, Stacy Barber, who is his wife’s stepmother and someone with some insight into Walder’s past. Barber said when Walder was about a year old, his father was killed by a train and he lost his mother when he was about two. After that, Barber said, he was passed from family member to family member and no one really forced him to follow the rules including finishing school. He began having trouble with the law at 14 or 15, and once old enough to be tried as an adult, Walder found himself in prison, which is where she said her cousin got his Aryan tattoos.
Barber is not convinced Walder is a white supremacist, but believes her cousin aligned himself with that group to survive in prison.
As for the rumors the shooting was a hate crime related to Walder’s affiliation with the Aryan Brotherhood, Bishop said robbery was currently considered the motive for the shooting but did not rule out the possibility that a Federal agency might contact his office regarding that issue.
Barber said Walder went to visit her when he was released from prison five years ago, after serving 10 years. That is when Walder met Barber’s stepdaughter, Tiffany, who he soon married and then the couple had a child.
“He was doing good the first year,” Barber said, “He had a good job.”
But then he got involved with methamphetamine, Barber said.
She has been separated from Walder’s father-in-law for about three years, she said, indicating that Walder was closer to his father-in-law than to her (his cousin). Barber said she received a series of strange phone calls and messages in the weeks leading up to the Christmas tragedy and she tried to warn police that something bad was going to happening, though no one could have foreseen what transpired. She also said Walder was supposed to be wearing an ankle monitor, according to the terms of his parole, but it was never enforced. She said police told her after the holidays they would check into the bizarre calls as possible phone harassment, though she thought they were something more serious.
Barber was not home when Walder took her pickup, she said, but he approached her oldest daughter demanding the keys. Barber’s daughter refused at first, she said, but Walder threatened to “hurt her” and she gave them to him.
Meanwhile, family, friends and employees of Virani are trying to come to terms with the tragedy, leaving cards and flowers all around the front doors of the closed business where he was murdered.
Carol Olson has known Virani since 1992. She worked for him off and on and considered him a friend.
Standing in the parking lot of the Happy Chap store, Olson described Virani as someone who would “do anything for anybody,” and said his wife, 3-year-old daughter, brothers and cousins were “devastated.”
Olson believes the shooting was a hate crime, because she says Virani always told his clerks if they were robbed to “give them what they want.”
“He always told his employees, your life is worth much more than the money, don’t hold back,” Olson said.
Tidwell called the death tragic and senseless. He and Bishop said the agencies involved in the investigation this far are the Liberty, Cleveland, Dayton and Woodville Police Departments, as well as the Texas Rangers, Texas Department of Public Safety, US Marshals, and the Tyler and Liberty County Sheriff’s Offices.
Stacy Barber said she does not know if any of the things she says were overlooked or ignored might have made a difference, but she will always wonder.
Virani was born in Pakistan on Sept. 1, 1959 and died in Liberty on Dec. 25, 2009 as the owner of four businesses. His funeral was held Tuesday in Pearland