Editor’s note: Seark Today has selected the top 10 regional stories of the year. The criteria used to select these stories were impact, widespread interest, and/or prominence of those involved.
2. Domestic Violence
In the last year, Southeast Arkansas residents read of some of the most horrific deaths at the hands, police believe, of family members or distant relatives. Among the 2012 deaths were a toddler, an elderly elected official, a wheelchair-bound woman, and a murder-suicide. An investigation into the 2011 death of an infant resulted in murder charges in 2012 and six suspects in 2010 and 2011 domestic violence cases ending in death were sentenced in 2012.
The beating death of 2-year-old Aubriana Coke, of Drew County, left area residents stunned, particularly when they learned of the horrific nature of her injuries.
Victoria and Daniel Pedraza, the toddler’s mother and stepfather, were both arrested and charged with capital murder and permitting the abuse that led to her death. Victoria, 21, subsequently pleaded guilty to permitting the abuse and 10th Judicial District Prosecutor Thomas Deen agreed to drop the capital murder charge against her in exchange for testimony against her husband.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a stay on the capital murder case against 23-year-old Daniel Pedraza, who faces a possible death sentence if convicted. Pedraza was scheduled to be tried in October but his defense team said they need more time to prepare for a trial complicated by a language barrier and difficulty in obtaining military records.
Less than a month before the Pedrazas were arrested in connection with their daughter’s death, another Drew County man was arrested and charged in connection with the February 2011 death of his infant son. Jackey Bostain’s arrest came after a year-long State Police investigation into the February 16, 2011 death of his 8-week-old son, Ridley Bostain.
The brutal beating death of 73-year-old Chicot Tax Collector Nell Johnson sent shock waves across Southeast Arkansas.
Johnson, of Lake Village, was found in her home the afternoon of May 3 after she failed to show up for work. She had been beaten to death. A month later, John Thomas Brooks was arrested and charged with capital murder, aggravated residential burglary and aggravated robbery in connection with her death. Brooks, 49, of Lake Village, is the father of Johnson’s granddaughter-in-law.
In September, a Southeast Arkansas couple died in an apparent murder-suicide.
Kim Patterson, the director of the Southeast Arkansas Regional Library who spearheaded a sales tax increase in Drew County to build a new library, was found dead along with his wife in the couple’s Warren home. Patterson, 64, died of a gunshot wound to the head while his 52-year-old wife, Sandra Patterson, died of a single gunshot wound to the upper torso. The deaths were ruled a murder-suicide with Kim Patterson committing the homicide.
Also in September, an Ashley County woman was arrested in the beating death of her wheelchair-bound mother. Police believe Jewel “Julie” White, 33, of Portland, killed her 59-year-old mother, Teresa Paulette Francis, following an argument at the home she shared with her mother. White was charged in October with capital murder.
During 2012, six Southeast Arkansas residents were convicted of murder or manslaughter in 2011 domestic violence cases.
The wife of a Lake Village businessman was sentenced in September to life in prison for murdering her husband in 2011.
Kathy Livingston was convicted of first-degree murder in shooting death of 58-year-old Bobby Livingston, the owner of Livingston Pecan and Metal. Bobby Livingston died on June 18, 2011 of a gunshot wound to the chest. He also had one gunshot wound to the palm of his hand. The medical examiner testified that the gunshot to the chest was at contact, meaning the muzzle of gun was in contact with Bobby Livingston’s chest when the shot was fired. Kathy Livingston was sentenced to life in prison. She will not be eligible for parole absent executive clemency.
Three men escaped possible death sentences in 2012 when they pleaded guilty to separate, unrelated murders.
In an eleventh-hour plea deal on the steps of the Desha County Courthouse after a jury was empaneled, Marquis Ontrell Poole’s defense attorney Steven Porch and 10th Judicial District Prosecutor Thomas Deen reached a plea agreement in which the 27-year-old Dumas man would plead guilty to first-degree murder in the November 2011 shooting death of his 25-year-old girlfriend Amanda Madden. Poole shot Madden three times with a revolver in the kitchen of her mother’s Dumas apartment. Madden’s 6-year-old child was in the room where the shooting occurred.
In the November 2012 plea agreement, Poole, who was charged with capital murder and faced a possible death sentence, was sentenced to 70 years in prison.
Also in November, a 24-year-old Lake Village man pleaded guilty to two counts of capital murder for the deaths of his two children and one count of attempted capital murder for the attempted murder of their mother, his former girlfriend.
Robert C. Carter Jr. received two life sentences for the murder of 18-month-old Amoni Elasia Carter and 4-year-old Nekole Carter, and a life sentence for the attempted murder of their mother. Carter was arrested in April 2011 after he drove a vehicle into the yard of a Dermott residence on Iowa Street where Latasha Figures, Carter’s former girlfriend, and their two children lived. As Carter drove into the yard on April 17, 2011, he struck and killed Amoni and critically injured Indeya Nekole, who later died at a Little Rock hospital. Figures, 25, was also injured.
A 2-year-old murder case was concluded in November 2012 when an Ashley County man pleaded guilty to the murder of a pregnant woman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Austin Nichole Paccio and her unborn daughter, Adaleigh Marie Paccio, were killed in October 2010 when 49-year-old Hamburg resident Mark David Johnson drove his pickup truck into his wife’s Jeep SUV. Paccio was a passenger in the SUV.
Johnson pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree attempted murder and one count of first-degree battery. He received two life sentences, one for the death of Paccio and one for the death of Paccio’s unborn daughter. He received a 30-year sentence for the attempted first-degree murder of his then wife Heather Johnson and a 20-year sentence for first-degree battery of Shelly Paccio.
According to court documents, Johnson drove his 2002 Dodge Ram into his wife’s vehicle, which was driven by one of her friends, Shelly Paccio. Shelly Paccio and Heather Johnson, the back seat passenger, were both injured while the front seat passenger Austin Nichole Paccio and her unborn daughter, Adaleigh Marie Paccio died. The gestation period of eight months (for Adaleigh) exceeded the 12-week gestation threshold set by state law, making her a an unborn victim.
The incident stemmed from domestic problems between the Johnsons. Mark Johnson was served with divorce papers on October 4, 2010, two days before the fatal crash.
In February 2012, Nicholas Jamal Nix was convicted of second-degree murder in the March 2011 shooting death of 23-year-old Katlin Lidge. Nix was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
Nix, the brother of Lidge’s girlfriend, fatally shot the former University of Arkansas-Monticello football player during an altercation at a Monticello apartment complex. The state’s evidence included an e-mail in which Nix indicated that he might kill Lidge over something related to Nix’s sister.
In March 2012, a Drew County man was convicted of manslaughter in the death of a distant relative.
Michael Dancy, a deacon at Seven Star Missionary Baptist Church in Reed, fatally cut Tony McCraney’s neck with a folding lock-blade knife following an argument in Monticello about McCraney’s niece and nephew who are also Dancy’s stepchildren.
Dancy, 42, was found guilty of manslaughter, meaning he recklessly caused McCraney’s death, and did so in the presence of a child, which carries enhanced penalties. He received an 8-year sentence for manslaughter and another 8-year sentence for causing McCraney’s death in the presence of a child.
Dancy, who was on probation for previously committing a terroristic act in an unrelated case in Chicot County, also received a 20-year sentence for violating the terms of his probation. Dancy, according to 10th Judicial District Prosecutor Thomas Deen, shot through the door of his girlfriend’s residence with a 357 magnum revolver.