The third day of the capital murder trial of Richard Conte ended with testimony by a state medical examiner.
Conte, 63, was charged with two counts of capital murder in 2011 for the 2002 shooting deaths of Carter Elliott, 49, and Timothy Wayne Robertson, 25, at Elliott’s home in West Conway.
Elliott owned industrial solvent manufacturer Detco and was a mentor to Robertson.
The pair were shot execution-style some time between May 18-19, 2002 in Elliott’s home in Shady Valley subdivision.
Dr. Stephen Erickson, a forensic pathologist with the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, told jurors the victims were brought in with “very unusual gunshot wounds.”
The cause of death of each victim was a fatal gunshot wound to the head, Erickson testified.
Erickson said both Robertson and Elliott were killed with .45 caliber Glaser Safety Slugs, a frangible bullet known to produce large, shallow wounds in flesh while failing to penetrate the target entirely.
Jackets from the slugs, along with tiny pellets and a blue plastic fragment, were removed from both victims during the autopsy.
Erickson said each victim suffered “a tremendous amount of damage” from the gunshot wounds.
Both victims were shot at close range, Erickson said, though it could not be determined whether the firearm in question made contact with the victim’s skin.
Erickson said it appeared someone may have “put something up against the wound” to filter the gunshot. Towels with bullet holes and soot were recovered from the crime scene.
Erickson testified he had only seen Glaser Safety Slugs in one other case in 20 years of work, and that if he hadn’t seen them before, he likely would have been surprised by the victim’s wounds.
According to Erickson, Elliott had been shot at the back, left side of his neck. Robertson suffered a gunshot wound to his left temple. Both of the wounds were noted as “atypical” in the medical examiner’s report.
Autopsy evidence suggested the men were likely under the control of an individual or individuals at the time of the incident, and it was noted there was no evidence of terminal fall injuries or of defensive injuries.
“The lethality of the mechanism was at maximum value ... and that’s what we call ‘execution,’” Erickson said.
An examination of stomach contents revealed “freshly masticated food” in one of the victims, indicating the homicide likely occurred shortly after he consumed the meal.
Erickson said the digestive process “occurs quickly,” and food typically becomes unrecognizable an hour to an hour and a half after the food is consumed, though Erickson said he couldn’t tell the exact time the last meal was consumed.
Earlier in the day, the prosecution entered into evidence a receipt from Taco Bell on Prince Street that was discovered in a trash can at Elliott’s home, dated May 18, 2002, with a time stamp just before 9 p.m.
Several other forensic experts from the state crime lab testified Thursday.
Dr. Steven Hargis, a firearms and ballistics expert, testified that Glaser slugs are less common because they are more expensive and are not typically utilized for a day at the shooting range.
Hargis testified he’d only seen them in “one or two” of his previous cases.
“When they’re fired into a target, shot pellets will disburse in the target to cause a lot of tissue damage in a short amount of time and will travel a shorter amount of space,” said Hargis.
According to Hargis, the slugs are used to “control penetration” in a target, so as not to pass through the target. They are typically sold in blister packs of six and are used for self-defense purposes, versus typical full metal jacket bullets, Hargis said.
Several firearms and barrel attachments belonging to Conte were tested with negative or inconclusive results, meaning there was not sufficient evidence to identify or eliminate, Hargis said.
Two of 11 magazines submitted for testing were loaded with Glaser slugs; one seven-round capacity containing six Glasers and another loaded with 14-rounds of safety slug ammunition.
According to forensic experts, there was no identifiable blood, hair or semen evidence recovered from the scene, other than blood evidence belonging to the victims.
Also called to the stand were two men who shared a cell with Conte at the Faulkner County jail.
One of the men, identified as Rusty Glover, told the jury Conte confessed to the murders while playing cards one day. Glover said he had been a schoolmate to Elliott’s daughter, Ashley, but had not seen her since high school, and came forward with the story because he wanted to do the right thing. The second man, Charles Reeves, now free on bond, told the jury he overheard the exchange.
Defense attorney Jack Lassiter pointed out the hefty stack of charges each are currently facing, as well as previous rap sheets, to discredit the validity of the testimony. Both men had written letters to prosecutors suggesting reduced bond or jail time and offering their testimony, though both testified that they had been promised nothing by prosecutors in return.
Jurors also viewed a June 26, 2002 interview by investigators with Conte during which Conte admitted he had never been in the military and his identity as a special-ops mercenary was “a fantasy (he) nurtured over the years.” Conte said he “furthered the fantasy,” following the breakdown of his marriage to Lark Swartz, in an attempt to persuade her to “take (him) back.”
In the interview, Conte also said he didn’t recall having ever traveled to Arkansas, nor had he met Elliott, though he admitted to speaking to him “once or twice” on the phone.
Court recessed around 6:10 p.m. Thursday and is set to resume at 8:30 a.m. Friday.
Conte has pleaded not guilty to the charges and could face life in prison without parole if convicted.