Michael Dancy, a deacon at Seven Star Missionary Baptist Church in Reed, was convicted Wednesday afternoon of killing a 48-year-old Pine Bluff man following an altercation last fall on Davis Street in Monticello.
Dancy, who admitted that he fatally cut Tony McCraney’s neck with a folding lock-blade type knife, maintained that it was an act of self-defense.
The altercation stemmed from a September 18 argument about McCraney’s niece and nephew, who are Dancy’s stepchildren.
Dancy, who is disabled due to the loss of a leg in an industrial accident 15 years ago, testified that McCraney pushed him against a vehicle and said something that Dancy perceived to be a threat.
Dancy, 42, was charged with first-degree murder but the jury could, in addition to first-degree murder, consider second-degree murder or manslaughter. Circuit Judge Bynum Gibson ruled that the self-defense option was not available for jury consideration and would not be included in the jury instructions.
“You can’t just slay a man because he pushes you,” Tenth Judicial District Prosecutor Thomas Deen said in his closing arguments to the jury.
Sometimes, Deen said, things happen that produce unintended or unexpected results but that was not the case here.
“This is the result that he intended,” Deen said, showing the jury a photograph of McCraney’s fatal neck wound.
“It takes force to produce this result,” Deen continued.
Responding to prior testimony about Dancy’s disability, Deen said “I’m sure it causes him a lot of aggravation and pain but… having a disability is not a license to kill. He had an opportunity, if he wished, to get in that vehicle and leave but he chose not to do so.”
Dancy’s defense attorney Robert Bridewell, of Lake Village, said in his closing arguments that the state did not meet the burden of proof in the case, that there was no evidence that Dancy set out to purposely cause McCraney’s death.
A Drew County jury deliberated about 45 minutes Wednesday afternoon before finding Dancy guilty of manslaughter, meaning he recklessly caused McCraney’s death, and did so in the presence of a child, which carries enhanced penalties.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, Deen presented court documents showing that Dancy is on probation for committing a terroristic act in Chicot County.
Dancy, according to Deen, shot through the door of his girlfriend’s residence with a 357 magnum revolver.
Bridewell, during the sentencing phase, called two witnesses, both testifying that Dancy was a deacon in their church.
Bob Ware, vice-chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Monticello College of Technology in McGehee and a deacon in the Seven Star Missionary Baptist Church in Reed, characterized Dancy as a decent, respectable man who displayed all of the characteristics of a model deacon.
Ware also said Dancy had expressed remorse that McCraney had lost his life.
Deen asked Ware if Dancy was a model deacon when shot a gun in a woman’s house. “Is that the sort of thing that is tolerated of deacons?” Deen asked.
“Incidents happen,” Ware responded.
Bridewell then called the church pastor, Rev. Johnny Handly, who echoed Ware’s comments, adding that Dancy was remorseful and had prayed for the McCraney family.
“Sometimes things happen in life,” Handly said. “This is the last thing Michael would want to happen.”
Before the jury left to deliberate the manslaughter sentence, Gibson told the jurors that he was going to revoke Dancy’s probation and sentence him for violating the terms of his probation.
Gibson sentenced Dancy to the maximum 20 years and told the jurors that the 20 years would run consecutive to whatever sentence they reached on the manslaughter conviction.
Explaining his reason for the maximum sentence for the probation violation, Gibson said a terroristic act is more than simply threatening someone, it is putting them in harm’s way.
“If you had received a sentence (rather than probation) for the terroristic act, it might have saved this man’s life,” Gibson told Dancy. “You did not in any way learn a lesson.”
After deliberations, the jury returned with an eight-year prison sentence for manslaughter and another eight-year sentence for committing manslaughter in the presence of a child under the age of 16.
All three sentences will run consecutive, resulting in a 36-year prison sentence. Dancy will have to serve one-sixth of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.
Bridewell, after the trial, said Dancy’s defense team was very comfortable with their position but were disappointed that they did not get the self-defense jury instruction.
“It limited our options and our positions,” Bridewell said. “We were also disappointed that the court gave him the maximum on the probation revocation. We accept the court’s reasoning and rationale… but we were hoping for a lesser sentence on that.
“We felt like the jury was extremely attentive,” Bridewell continued. “Obviously they believed what Mr. Dancy said – that it was not a purposeful act….”