A question of relevance concerning evidence found in Texas pointing to a murder in Arkansas is at the heart of a dispute in the prosecution of a Texarkana man accused of killing his stepfather and burning the body in the trunk of the victim's car.
Eighth Judicial District-North Public Defender Danny Rodgers gas filed a motion in circuit court to prohibit admission of irrelevant evidence in Hempstead County Circuit Court in connection with the prosecution of Don Airsman, Jr., 30, of Texarkana.
Airsman was extradited from Dunklin County, Mo., in May, 2012, from his hometown of Hornersville, Mo., where he had allegedly fled to the home of his biological father after what authorities allege was the murder of his stepfather, William Allen Jones, 60, of Saratoga, in April, 2012.
The charges against Airsman stem, in part, from evidence given by a material witness, who has remained unnamed. The witness has given evidence which alleges that Airsman shot Jones at the elderly man's home in Saratoga, then put his body into the trunk of Jones' Honda, and drove it to Bowie County, Texas, where Airsman allegedly covered the vehicle with gasoline and set it ablaze.
Rodgers argues that the evidence recovered in Texas is not relevant to whether Jones was murdered in Arkansas, and that any connection cannot be prosecuted in Arkansas because the separate events involving the evidence found in Texas did not occur in the jurisdiction of any Arkansas court.
He argues that, “... only evidence as to the gunshot wounds and cause of death is relevant and, pursuant to Humphrey v. State..., if the first fatal gunshot wound was justified then any use of excessive force thereafter would not be relevant.”
Rodgers has filed notice with the court that his client will plead that he was justified in shooting Jones.
Consequently, he argues that any evidence which arises out of that justified act is either not relevant or of “such limited probative value as to be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury.”
But, Eighth Judicial District-North Deputy Prosecutor John Crisp, Jr., argues in a Jan. 23 response that Rodgers misreads his precedent in Humphrey v. State.
“Relevancy, as the Court knows, is a relatively low hurdle: Ark. R. Evidence 401 defines relevant evidence as 'evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence,'” Crisp writes. “Relevancy does not require that the evidence prove the entire case or rebut an entire defense; instead, 'all that is required is that it have any tendency to make any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable.'”
Page 2 of 2 - Crisp argues that anyone's attempt to “cover up the circumstances” of an offense or fabricate evidence in connection with an offense is admissible evidence of actions in connection with that offense.
He cites a 1990 case in which a woman was charged with murder in Arkansas and relied upon self-defense as her defense. Crisp states that because the woman “...did not call for an ambulance or hail a police car which passed by shortly after she shot and killed the victim; instead electing to load the victim's body into the trunk of a vehicle and drive the body to a neighboring county before dumping it along a dirt road near a river...” her actions subsequent to the shooting were relevant to the act itself.
Where Rodgers cites Humphrey v. State, Crisp notes that case has no bearing at all on the relevancy of evidence, but, rather upon “...whether a jury instruction should have been given in light of the evidence presented.”
Crisp argues that a majority of the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in Humphrey that the evidence presented at trial did warrant the particular jury instruction being given, and that Justice W. H. “Dub” Arnold, noted in dissent that “shooting an unarmed person 14 times is murder, not self-defense.” Consequently, Crisp argues that Humphrey does not aid the Court in finding for Rodgers' position.
No written orders have been filed in connection with the motions. Trial in the case is set for March 25.