The life sentence of an Ashley County man who doused another man with gasoline and set him on fire has been upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Anthony Brown, 51, was sentenced to life in prison in August 2019 after an Ashley County jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 47-year-old Jessie Burton.
Brown, then 49, and Burton, got into an altercation on New Year’s Eve in Parkdale. Following the altercation, Brown left and returned with a shotgun. Brown did not use the shotgun, he left again, returning with a handgun. When Burton’s friends interceded Brown went home and Burton and his friends went to a friend’s trailer.
Over an hour later, Brown returned and found Burton sitting on the steps outside the trailer. Brown approached Burton and threw a cup of gasoline on him. The two men began to struggle and Brown lit a cigarette lighter and ignited Burton’s upper torso, arms, and face. Burton died at a hospital less than two hours later, according to a review of the case in a recently delivered Arkansas Supreme Court Opinion.
On appeal, Brown claimed the evidence did not support a first-degree murder conviction because he did not cause Burton’s death. He argued that Burton’s heart condition caused his death and the fact that Burton died almost two hours after being lit on fire means the causes could not be concurrent.
At trial, witnesses testified that Burton threw a cup of gasoline on Burton and set him on fire. Also testifying was the medical examiner, Dr. Adam Craig, who explained that Burton’s cause of death was thermal cutaneous burns with a contributing cause of heart disease.
Craig said the burns were the direct cause of death and heart disease was instrumental in causing Burton’s death because the burns alone would not have killed him. However, if Burton had not been set on fire, he would not have died that day.
The pain and stress of the burns put excessive strain on Burton’s heart, leading to its failure, according to Dr. Craig’s report, which was admitted into evidence at trial.
Brown, according to the Arkansas Supreme Court, gave no authority to support his argument that the connection between lighting Burton on fire and the death approximately two hours later was too weak.
“We will not consider an argument not supported by any legal authority,” Associate Justice Rhonda K. Wood wrote in the Arkansas Supreme Court Opinion.
Brown also argued that the State failed to prove causation beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the Arkansas Supreme Court’s standard of review is whether substantial evidence supported the verdict.
Citing a 2017 Arkansas case, Wood wrote that a person “whose wrongdoing is a concurrent proximate cause of an injury is criminally liable as if his wrongdoing was the sole proximate cause of the harm done… ” She also cited as an example a U.S. Supreme Court case, “if poison is administered to a man debilitated by multiple diseases, it is a but-for cause of his death even if those diseases played a part in his demise, so long as, without the incremental effect of the poison, he would have lived.”
“While Dr. Craig provided his medical opinion and admitted he was not 100 percent certain as to causation, it was the jury’s province, not this court’s, to judge the credibility of his testimony and to weigh the evidence,” Wood wrote. “Because the State presented sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Brown caused Burton’s death, we affirm.”