The Arkansas Court of Appeals has upheld the February manslaughter conviction of a Lincoln County man who was sentenced in to nine years in prison for the October 2010 shooting death of 53-year-old Michael King.
Jeffree Wayne Ratterree, 46, of Star City was charged with first-degree murder after he shot King in the face during an altercation at Lincoln County residence where King and another man were working on a vehicle.
Ratterree, whose first trial in August 2011 ended with a 10-2 hung jury, 10 for manslaughter and two for second-degree murder, was tried again in February for King’s death. The second jury found him guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him to nine years in prison, one year shy of the maximum sentence for manslaughter, a Class C felony.
Ratterree appealed the conviction to the Arkansas Court of Appeals arguing that Circuit Court Judge Berlin Jones abused his discretion when he excluded King’s autopsy report and testimony about King’s drug use and refused to allow a jury instruction on negligent homicide. The Arkansas Court of Appeals disagreed.
According to court documents, Ratterree, Ray DeWease and Winfred Ashcraft had spent the day at Ratterree’s farm and deer camp and later stopped by a friend’s house. When they left, DeWease was driving, Ashcraft was in the front passenger seat, and Ratterree was in the back seat.
As they passed a house where King and Larry Pierce were outside working on a vehicle, King allegedly yelled something. Ratterree asked DeWease to stop and back up. When he did, Ratterree got out of the car and walked toward the men. Ashcraft and DeWease stayed in the vehicle until they heard a gunshot.
They found King lying on the ground with a gunshot wound to the face and reportedly heard Ratterree say he had “(expletive deleted) up”.
Ashcraft testified that he took a gun out of Ratterree’s pocket, put it on the ground, and drew a circle around it.
Evie Nobles, who lived at the house were King was shot, and Pierce both testified at Ratterree’s trial. They said Ratterree got out of the vehicle and walked to the driver’s side of the vehicle where King was sitting and asked King if he was talking to him. When King said he wasn’t, Ratterree grabbed King by the throat. King then pushed the door open to get out of the vehicle and Ratterree shot him.
Nobles’ daughter testified that she saw Ratterree shoving the door against King and when King got out of the vehicle, Ratterree shot him. She testified that she did not see either of the men with their hands on the other.
Kenneth Davis, an investigator from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, testified that as he was walking Ratterree from the jail to an interview room, Ratterree told him that he “got him in the face, it was a good shot,” and that he was “tired of the riffraff in the neighborhood.”
Ratterree gave two statements to Davis.
In his first statement, he reportedly told Davis he heard someone yell “slow the (expletive deleted) down” as he, DeWease and Ashcraft passed the house. He said he told DeWease to back up and he got out.
Ratterree said he saw two men, one in front of a vehicle and one in the vehicle. He claimed King, the man in the vehicle, grabbed something from the seat so he got his gun from his pocket and slammed King’s arm in the door of the vehicle.
Ratterree said he and King had contact with their hands and arms and that his gun discharged and King fell to the ground, according to his statement to Davis.
Because Ratterree had alcohol on his breath, Davis said he took a second statement the next morning and it was virtually the same as the first statement.
At trial, Ratterree gave statements similar to the statements he made to Davis.
He testified that he did not remember pulling the trigger and it surprised him when it went off.
Neither the investigating officers nor the coroner found any weapons in or under King’s vehicle or on or under King’s body except Ratterree’s gun that Ashcraft had placed on the ground nearby.
In his appeal, Ratterree contended that the judge should have allowed the autopsy report which showed that toxicological analysis of King’s blood indicated that he had methamphetamine, amphetamine, phentermine, and cyclobenzaprine in his system at the time of death, as well as cannabinoids in his urine.
Prosecutors argued that allowing that testimony was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, that it would not explain to the jury why King reacted the way he did, and that the evidence would only serve to inflame the jury.
Appeals Court Judge David M. Glover agreed.
“There is nothing in those events to show that the drugs in King’s system had anything to do with the confrontation,” Judge Glover wrote in the ruling. “We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to admit the results of King’s toxicology report or any testimony of King’s drug use.”
Glover also dismissed Ratterree’s argument that Jones should have allowed a jury instruction for negligent homicide.
“Here there was no negligent behavior on the part of Ratterree,” Glover wrote. “All of his actions were purposeful.
“He had DeWease turn around and return to where King was located; he got out of the vehicle and approached King; the two of them had words; and, according to witnesses, Ratterree grabbed King by the throat and prevented King from exiting the vehicle by leaning on the door,” Glover wrote in the ruling. “According to Ratterree’s testimony, King grabbed something from the console, and Ratterree pulled his gun from his pocket. Further, according to Ratterree, when King got out of the vehicle, Ratterree said that King was ‘swatting’ at him, and the gun went off accidentally.
“However, James Looney, a firearm and toolmark examiner with the Arkansas State Crime Lab, testified that for the gun to be fired, the trigger had to be pulled, which usually required five to five and a half pounds of pressure,” Glover wrote. “This type of testimony rebuts the notion that Ratterree acted negligently. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give the jury an instruction on negligent homicide because there was no evidence presented to the jury that rationally supported the giving of such an instruction.”