A Drew County woman’s claim of self-defense failed Friday when a jury sentenced her to 20 years in prison for manslaughter and abuse of a corpse.
A DNA analyst told the jury Thursday that DNA profiles taken from charred remains recovered from a burn pile in Drew County and a vaginal swab in a rape kit match that of Sam Arnold, Jr., a 41-year-old Ashley County man reported missing in late July 2015.
Heather Hackett, who was charged with first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in Arnold’s death, said she fatally shot Arnold after he told her that he was the man who raped her in Ashley County on June 16, 2015 and planned to do it again.
Reading transcribed text while listening to an audio recording of Hackett’s August 6 interview with investigators, jurors heard Hackett describe the events leading up to the shooting and the incineration of Arnold’s body.
Hackett said she was attacked at Lake GP on June 16, 2015 while awaiting friends. It was dark and she was knocked unconscious by her assailant, so she couldn’t identify the man who attacked her.
About six weeks later, in late July, Hackett said she ran into a friend, Sam Arnold, Jr., at a store in Hamburg. She said he wanted to ride with her back to Drew County to visit his sister.
While in Monticello, Hackett said she took Arnold to a convenience store to purchase a cigarella to make a cigarella blunt. He purchased a cigarella and condoms, investigators learned.
Hackett changed parts of her story throughout the interview. She first told investigators that she dropped Arnold off on Shelton Street in Monticello after leaving the convenience store, but later said they went to her residence on Midway Route in Drew County where Arnold became angry because she wouldn’t “mess around.”
She said she told him she had been raped.
“‘I know you’ve been raped because I’m … the one who did it. I thought that’s what you wanted,'” she said he told her after revealing she had been raped.
“I was like, no, you’re – you, you – you were the one who did this? And he said ‘Yeah. I’m going to do it again.'”
She conceded that she previously had conversations with Arnold about rough sex, but it was just talk. “It doesn’t mean: Hey, let’s go do this.”
Hackett said she shoved Arnold, causing him to fall off the back steps, then went inside her house and got a gun. “I told him that he needed to leave … and he said ‘no, it was too late for that.'”
While he was banging on the back door, Hackett said, she went out the front door, trying to get a cell phone signal as she headed to her vehicle.
“He came around there and … he pulled me back around back,” she said.
Hackett said they fought and she shot him, hitting him in the side. “Blood went all over me; all over everything,” she said. “I pulled away from him and he grabs me again and I fired two or three more times…”
After realizing that she had killed Arnold, Hackett said she panicked. She dragged his body to a burn pile where she had been burning yard waste.
“I had … a problem because I knew I’d taken him to the store,” she said, apparently referring to the fact that she may have been seen with Arnold at the convenience store.
Numerous times throughout the interview, Hackett would tell investigators “I don’t remember,” but later provide more details, finally admitting that she burned Arnold’s body, gathered the burned remains and placed them into a blue plastic tub, then dumped the remains in a pond.
“I’m really sorry,” she said. “I don’t know why I didn’t dial 911. I just panicked.”
An Ashley County law enforcement officer who investigated Hackett’s June 16 rape allegations testified that he was unable to locate the friends Hackett claimed she planned to meet at Lake GP, but Hackett clearly had been attacked. Both the law enforcement officer and Dr. Mark Dixon, the physician who examined Hackett following the attack, said Hackett’s body had numerous bruises, abrasions and what appeared to be cigarette burns on her neck and arm.
Though there appeared to be no injuries to the vaginal area, Dr. Dixon didn’t seem to think that was particularly unusual. “In a woman that has been sexually active we might not see any obvious trauma,” he explained.
Hackett’s father, a pastor, sales manager, and one of three defense witnesses, testified that he returned from a short trip to Florida in late July 2015 to find damages to his home. He said the back door was dented, the back door knob was damaged, and the back steps were damaged. Not realizing the door and steps could have been part of an upcoming murder investigation, Mr. Hackett said he repaired his damaged property.
During cross-examination by 10th Judicial District Chief Deputy Prosecutor Frank Spain, Mr. Hackett said he didn’t tell law enforcement officers about the damaged door and steps because they didn’t ask.
“At this point I wish I had left them up because it would prove what happened,” he said, apparently referring to his daughter’s claim of self-defense.
In his closing statement during the guilt phase of the trial, Spain told the jurors that Heather Hackett is a dishonest person who repeatedly lied to investigators.
“This is a person who says that she’s engaging in talking to Sam Arnold about rough sex, yet she (says) does not have sex with black men,” Spain said. “She took him to EZ Mart so they could buy marijuana – he picks up condoms…” (Spain obviously meant they went to EZ Mart to purchase a cigarella to make a blunt, not purchase marijuana at the store.)
Trying to punch more holes in her story, Spain said Hackett and Arnold’s cell phone records don’t support her story. They were calling and texting each other during the time she says he was with her at her residence.
Hackett’s attorney, Steve Porch, in his closing argument said Sam Arnold, Jr. had two sides.
“People have multiple sides,” Porch said. “In the daytime, Sam Arnold was her friend. But at nighttime, he was something different. He was a rapist.”
Porch said Hackett took Arnold to EZ Mart to buy a cigarella, but he bought a cigarella and condoms. “He was planning to do something that night.”
He told her he was going to rape her again and he dragged her to the back of the house when she was trying to get to her vehicle, Porch said.
“Why can’t she defend herself? Why can’t she stop someone from hurting her again?” Porch asked the jurors. “She had a right to defend herself. Nobody should have their bodies mastered over and penetrated, over and over again, like they are nothing! The justification rule says that she has a right, if she feels she is being threatened by force – rape, to defend herself with deadly force.”
“The prosecutor says, ‘Well, she was talking about rough sex with somebody,'” Porch said.
“So when someone talks about sex they must be wanting to do it. They can’t say ‘no’ anymore; so she deserved to be beaten and raped – because that’s what she wanted,” Porch said facetiously.
“It’s insulting to hear something like that,” Porch said. She’s a person!”
People may say that Hackett planned to kill Arnold because she knew he raped her, but there is no evidence of that, Porch said.
“I respectfully ask that you return a verdict of not guilty of first-degree murder and manslaughter,” Porch said to the jurors.
Spain conceded that Arnold’s DNA was on the vaginal swab collected when Hackett was examined after reporting that she had been raped. “But, we don’t know how it got there,” he said.
“I’m not saying she wasn’t raped,” Spain said. “I’m saying we don’t know that Sam Arnold did it. She reports it six hours after it allegedly occurred…”
“What happened between the time she said it happened and the time she goes to the hospital?” Spain asked. “Did somebody see those injuries and say, ‘Hey, what happened?’ She can’t say ‘I was having rough sex because that’s what I like.'”
“What I find interesting is Mr. Porch said buying condoms was an indication that he was going to rape her again,” Spain said. “If you’ve raped somebody before and left your DNA, covering up the second time is not going to help.”
The jury deliberated one hour and 10 minutes before finding Hackett guilty of abuse of a corpse and manslaughter (rather than first-degree murder).
After another 45 minutes of deliberation in the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury recommended the maximum sentence for both crimes: 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for manslaughter and 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for abuse of a corpse.
Circuit Judge Sam Pope followed the jury’s recommendation and ordered the two sentences to run consecutive.