The man accused in the death of a Conway police officer waived his arraignment hearing Monday in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
Barry Strickland, 31, of Conway, was to appear before the judge and enter a plea, but he waived his first appearance.
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Charles E. Clawson.
Officer William McGary was directing traffic Jan. 31 on Dave Ward Drive when he was struck by a Jeep driven by Strickland, who was returning home from work early at his railroad job.
McGary succumbed to his injuries on Feb. 1 at a hospital in Little Rock.
Strickland was booked into Faulkner County Jail following the incident and charged with driving while intoxicated and first-degree battery.
He was later released on $150,000 bond.
Local attorney Frank Shaw is serving as defense counsel to Strickland.
On Monday, Shaw said that Strickland is a two-tour decorated war veteran from a third-generation family of sawmill owners. According to Shaw, Strickland entered the National Guard in college and toured in Egypt and Iraq, where he witnessed combat.
As a result, Shaw added, Strickland suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was prescribed “a lot of different medications” to treat his symptoms following his discharge from the military.
Though the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office were “more than accommodating,” during Strickland’s time in jail, Shaw said it was determined it would be difficult to access medication and that given Strickland’s condition, the family posted the hefty bail.
“He has a great, Christian family and Barry is a great young man,” Shaw said. “He’s the best kid you’ve ever seen in jail.”
Outside of jail, Strickland returned to his hometown with his family, Shaw said, where he will remain pending the outcome of a jury trial or plea negotiation.
Choosing to represent a client accused in the death of a hometown hero is not without repercussion.
Shaw admitted that he has “caught some flack” from members in the community for his decision to represent Strickland in court.
“We aren’t disputing the facts in this case,” Shaw said. “We all know what happened. I had worked with Officer McGary in the past and he was a great guy.”
Shaw said he thought about it for “about a week and a half,” and the question became, ‘What is appropriate?’
“You have two heroes that have served — one an officer killed in the line of duty, the other a decorated war veteran who served in a heavy fighting zone and has suffered ever since. So what is appropriate?”
Shaw said though Strickland was indisputably driving under the influence of prescribed medication at the time of the incident, he is confident that it will be determined that Strickland was not under the influence of any illegal drugs. There is no indication, Shaw said, that Strickland was driving drunk at the time of the incident.
The waiving of the arraignment enters an automatic ‘not guilty’ plea; the charge of first-degree battery of an officer carries a more substantial penalty than the charge of negligent homicide, Shaw said.
Strickland will not appear at a bond hearing set for Wednesday morning in circuit court, where the next pretrial hearing will likely be set.
(Megan Reynolds is a staff writer and can be reached by phone at 501-505-1277. To comment on this story and others, visit www.thecabin.net.)