Crime made the news in Hope and Hempstead County in 2012, a year that saw the resolution to a long-standing murder case; a rash of underage sexual liaison cases; a murder case that took officers to Missouri and back; a jail contraband probe; and a deja vu arson fire at a historic factory.
A Murfreesboro High School teacher was arrested by Hempstead County Sheriff's officers in February, and formal charges filed in March in connection with an on-going sexual relationship with a student.
Monical Lee Teel, 27, of Murfreesboro, was charged with a single count of first degree sexual assault from an alleged series of sexual encounters with one of her civics class students. The series of meetings allegedly had been ongoing since late 2010 at a cabin on the Hempstead County side of the Hempstead/Pike counties line. Trial of the case remains under continuance in Hempstead County Circuit Court.
In March, a Hope man was arrested and charged in April with one count of rape in connection with an alleged on-going relationship with a 17-year old girl that had begun when she was age 13. Bobby Lee Parks, 65, of Hope, was charged in a case involving a Texarkana-area teen who alleged that she had been prostituted to him by her mother and grandmother in exchange for money to pay for her mother's drug habit and to pay household bills.
Trial of the case remains under continuance in Hempstead County Circuit Court after a material witness could not be located for several weeks. Parks' attorney, Justin Hurst, of Hot Springs, contends not only that Parks denies the relationship, but that evidence exists to indicate the alleged victim has made similar accusations in the past against at least one other man.
In May, a Spring Hill Schools employee pleaded guilty to three counts of first degree sexual assault in connection with at least one sexual liaison with a student in November-December, 2011. Brigit Newsom, 28, of Hope, was sentenced to 10 years probation, fined $2,500, and ordered to pay court costs of $670 in connection with her guilty pleading in an agreed pleading. Newsom was also ordered to register as a sexual offender and meet standard probation conditions.
In June, a Prescott man who allegedly believed he was to meet a teenaged girl from Springhill, La., for sexual favors, was arrested by Arkansas and Louisiana law enforcement officers at the Nevada County Library. Dennis Frazier, 51, of Prescott, was arrested on warrants from Springhill, La., in connection with a series of online chat sessions of a sexual nature which he allegedly conducted with someone he believed to be 14 and 16 year old females. He allegedly asked one of the females to travel to Prescott and meet him at the public library, then they were to go elsewhere for sex. Frazier waived extradition and was taken to Louisiana and jailed under an $80,000 bond.
Page 2 of 4 - Guilty verdict
In July, then-Hope Vice Mayor David Johnson was found guilty of misdemeanor theft for pocketing some $288 in cash he took from a table at a local restaurant, and fined $625 by a visiting Miller County district judge. During the one-day trial, defense attorney Jimmy Morris, of Little Rock, argued that Johnson had been charged under the wrong statute. Morris contended Johnson should have been charged under a 2005 law regarding theft of lost, mislaid or misappropriated property.
But, videotape evidence and direct testimony from the victim in the case ran counter to the requirements of Morris' contention, and Johnson was found guilty after testimony from employees of the Subway Restaurant on North Hervey Street, and from Hope Police Detective Lt. Jimmy Courtney. Morris originally gave notice of appeal to circuit court, but no appeal was ever filed.
A Texarkana man remains accused in the shooting death and burning of the body of his stepfather, in a case that took local lawmen to Texas, Missouri and back to Arkansas. Don Airsman, Jr., of Texarkana, has been charged in the death of William Allen Jones, 60, of Saratoga, stemming from events surrounding the April 27 discovery of Jones' body in the trunk of his burned out car in Bowie County, Texas.
Airsman was subsequently arrested by local authorities in Dunklin County, Mo., in May, after he allegedly fled to the home of his biological father. The charges in Arkansas stemmed largely from evidence given by a material witness, which indicated that Airsman shot Jones at the elderly man's home in Saratoga, then put his body in the trunk of Jones' Honda, drove it to a rural area in Bowie County, Texas, and allegedly set the car ablaze. Airsman and the material witness allegedly then drove to Kennett, Mo., where the witness lived.
Eighth Judicial District-North Public Defender Danny Rodgers has since filed motions in circuit court claiming a defense of justification for Airsman; and, has argued that Airsman was illegally detained and questioned without an attorney present after he had repeatedly requested one. Trial in the case remains under continuance in circuit court.
In early August, two men who had been set for trial that month in connection with the October, 2006, murder of a Hope man, who was himself suspected of having murdered his mother, both pleaded guilty in Nevada County Circuit Court.
Jared Dundee, 28, of Rosston, was scheduled to go to trial a week before Jesse L. Whatley, 29, also of Rosston, on first degree murder charges in connection with the shooting death of Jon Michael Fincher, 37, of Hope, on or about Oct. 31, 2006. Dundee was charged along with Whatley in the killing of acting “alone or with the assistance of accomplice...”, thereby, charging both men with direct and accomplice liability for the crime. Whatley subsequently pleaded guilty in Nevada County Circuit Court.
Page 3 of 4 - Both men pleaded guilty to a single count of second degree murder, and Dundee was sentenced under an enhanced pleading by Eighth Judicial District-North Circuit Judge Duncan Culpepper to a term of 25 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Whatley pleaded guilty before Circuit Judge Randy Wright, and was sentenced to 12 years incarceration. Both men pleaded guilty under separately agreed plea bargains.
Dundee admitted, “I shot John Michael Fincher” in response to questioning from Culpepper during the pleading hearing. Dundee said he shot Fincher in the head with a handgun, buried Fincher's body and also buried the handgun, according to statements made in the exchange between Culpepper and Dundee. Whatley's pleading agreed with Dundee's account.
Remains found in Nevada County, and later positively identified as those of Jon Michael Fincher, were identified through DNA analysis by the University of North Texas in Dallas, Texas, based upon a DNA sample which Fincher had given to authorities in connection with the death of his mother, Donna. Jon Fincher's remains were found about a half-mile from a pond near Nevada County Road 5 where investigators had searched in June, 2007, in connection with his disappearance after his mother's death.
Hope Police Department investigators were convinced Fincher murdered his mother, shooting her inside her Pine Street residence in September, 2006. Jon Michael Fincher subsequently disappeared in October, 2006, with an open HPD arrest warrant issued for him in connection with Mrs. Fincher's death.
That warrant was subsequently recalled, and no warrants were ever issued for other suspects in connection with Mrs. Fincher's murder.
In mid-August, a Louisiana man was arrested in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, in connection with the shooting death of Mark Harris, 33, of Hope. Michael Muldrow, 22, whose address was unknown at the time, was returned to Hope from Mt. Pleasant after waiving extradition when he was captured by local and state authorities in Texas on a bus bound for Dallas on Aug. 16. Muldrow allegedly shot Harris at the victim's Mack Street apartment as the result of an argument about a woman. Harris was found by Hope police officers who responded to a call concerning the shooting, and he later died at a local hospital.
Deja vu all over again
In September, much of the historic Bruner-Ivory Handle Mill on North Laurel Street burned to the ground in a case of arson strangely similar to a May, 2007, fire at the defunct business. Evidence collected at the scene indicated that the fire was started intentionally in the center of two rooms in the building. Both rooms were used for storage at the time of the fire. The 2007 fire had been set in a similar manner in the southwest corner of the complex. The 2007 fire investigation produced a suspect, but records of the case have since been stored. No arrest has been made in the current case.
Page 4 of 4 - Contraband probe
A Hempstead County jailer was fired and subsequently arrested in September and a female inmate later arrested in October in connection with a contraband smuggling investigation at the Hempstead County Detention Center.
Detention officer Jeremy Brown, 35, of McCaskill, was arrested on an allegation of furnishing prohibited articles into the jail as the result of an internal investigation on Sept. 26. On Oct. 5, a Hope woman, Dannette Moore, 35, was arrested and charged with furnishing, possessing, or using prohibited articles while incarcerated. Both investigations involved the smuggling of cigarettes and marijuana into the county jail.