Family members take stand in capital murder trial

Circumstantial evidence dominates day two testimony

Documents seized during the execution of a search warrant and testimony by the children of Carter Elliott were the focus of second day testimony in the capital murder trial for Richard Conte.

Conte, 63, was charged with two counts of capital murder in 2011 in the 2002 shooting deaths of Elliott, 49 and Timothy Wayne Robertson, 25 at Elliott’s home in West Conway.

The trial reconvened at 10 a.m. Wednesday after the first day of testimony was cut short just after noon by dangerous weather conditions.

Elliott’s children, Ashley Waldron and Trey Elliott, each took the stand before lunch, following cross-examination of their mother, Lark Swartz.

Both tearful at times, they recounted the events surrounding the kidnapping of Swartz by Conte on June 20, 2002 and of learning of their father’s death.

Ashley and Trey told the jury they were both in Conway working to tie up the affairs of their slain father at the time of the kidnapping incident, taking action from afar to secure their mother’s freedom two days after she was kidnapped.

Ashley testified that while cleaning her father’s house in the weeks following his death, she stumbled upon a firearm that she relinquished to her brother and asked him to deliver to law enforcement.

On the stand, Trey said he could not recall the discovery of the gun or ever handing it over to law enforcement; and during cross-examination by defense attorney Jack Lassiter, he admitted it was not uncommon for his father to store cash in excess of $10,000 in his West Conway home.

Swartz’ brother-in-law, Dr. Kevin Clark, and Swartz’ brother, Richard Gathright also took the stand and relayed their account of events leading up to Swartz’ kidnapping.

Both testified they were in Florida at the time of the double homicide and tried to reach Conte at his home in Carson City and at his cabin in Duck Creek for 45 minutes before Conte returned their phone call from the Duck Creek cabin.

Clark, a longtime friend to Conte, also told the jury about a phone conversation he had with Conte on April 17, 2002, during which time Conte told him he’d been shot by a sniper on a special-ops mission in Afghanistan and needed the surgeon to remove the bullets from his wounds.

According to Clark, Conte arrived at his office a few hours later dressed in full battle fatigue, including a helmet. When he took off his breastplate, bullets fell to the office floor. Dr. Clark told jurors he removed approximately eight or nine bullets from Conte’s legs, arms and shoulder that appeared to have been inserted just under the skin through small incisions. The wounds were not consistent with bullet wounds, he testified.

Also introduced into evidence was a letter Clark discovered on his refrigerator shortly following the kidnapping incident in June. The letter, penned by Conte to Clark and his wife, who is Swartz’ sister, reportedly told of the murder of a man Swartz met online. Conte said Swartz had murdered the man and he’d delivered her to the border of Mexico in an attempt to get her to a safehouse in Central America. Conte wrote he had given Swartz $10,000 of his doomsday cash with which to purchase a vehicle. The story they had concocted to account for her whereabouts, Conte wrote, was that she had run away on a mega-yacht with a rich man “to be treated like a queen.”

Sgt. Rick Brown was lead investigator on Swartz’ kidnapping case. He testified that he worked with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in 2002 and recovered from Conte’s home and vehicle several documents pertaining to Conway such as maps, local emergency scanner frequencies and a list of local media outlets. Also taken from the home were printouts of news stories on the double homicide and e-mails taken from Swartz’ e-mail account; the address and telephone number for Detco and for the residence of Trey Elliott, and photos of Swartz with other men, including Carter Elliott.

Documents obtained during the search also revealed Conte had spent $85 online for information on another of Swartz’ male friends.

Brown testified on cross-examination that several ATVs belonging to Conte were delivered to William Pringle, a friend of Conte’s at Duck Creek, who told the investigator he had seen Conte several times over the weekend in question at his cabin in Duck Creek.

Pringle, now deceased, reportedly told Brown that Conte couldn’t have been in Conway at the time of the incident because Conte had reminded him of their meeting on the weekend in question during a converastion about him not seeing Conte in May.

Brown testified that Pringle reported he had seen Conte outside near garbage cans “acting strange.” Pringle also reported Conte didn’t have rent owed for the month of May and was embarassed about it.

Entered into evidence were two receipts for diesel gasoline purchases in Nevada by Conte; one on May 16, 2002 and another on May 22, 2002.

Brown said 9-10 gas cans were recovered from a storage shed at Conte’s cabin in Duck Creek, as well as several others in a shop.

The day concluded with testimony by Cpl. Charles McLemore with the Arkansas State Police.

The trial will resume 9 a.m. Thursday morning.

Conte has pleaded not guilty to the charges and could face life in prison without parole if convicted.


(Related: See day one trial recap here.)

(Megan Reynolds is a staff writer and can be reached by phone at 501-505-1277 or by e-mail at megan.reynolds@thecabin.net. To comment on this story and others, visit www.thecabin.net.)

 

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