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Jury selection, witness testimony highlight day one of murder trial

Posted: February 19, 2013 - 8:15pm

The first day of the trial in the state’s case against a man accused in the 2010 stabbing death of a Greenbrier woman saw jury selection, opening arguments and the testimony of several witnesses in Faulkner County Circuit Court under Judge Charles E. Clawson.

Ronald Adrean Britton Jr., 35, of Beebe, has pleaded not guilty to capital murder in connection with the death of 26-year-old Michelle Asher of Greenbrier.

Asher was found dead in her backyard Aug. 14, 2010 with multiple stab wounds to the neck and torso. Britton was arrested later that day in El Paso, Ark.

The victim’s family said she had been missing for about 24 hours when a family friend went to the residence and found her body lying in the yard.

Counsel selected a pool of jurors including 10 men and four women just after noon Tuesday.

In opening arguments Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors painted Britton as a jealous boyfriend who “made good on a chilling promise,” and alleged that if Britton couldn’t have Asher, “no one could.”

Prosecutor Cody Hiland described Asher as a loving daughter and devoted mother who worked two jobs to support her young son. For Asher, Hiland said, Friday the 13th was “much too real ... a day of terror and death.”

Defense attorney Pat Aydelott told jurors it was “essential ... to listen carefully.”

Aydelott told jurors he didn’t believe the prosecution would be able to put Britton at the scene of the crime or prove that he was responsible for the murder.

“You are the finders of fact,” Aydelott said, adding that at the end of the trial, it was up to jurors to tell family and friends, “We did the right thing.”

A disturbance occurred in the courtroom during video testimony from the state’s first witness. Britton, appearing agitated, raised his hand in the air, telling courtroom bailiffs to “press that button now.”

As he was escorted from the courtroom, Britton was heard demanding a backpack and told bailiffs he needed his mental health counselor immediately. Bailiffs instructed those sitting near the back row of the courtroom and in Britton’s path to move to the front of the courtroom.

Britton remained in chambers throughout the video testimony and was escorted back in to the courtroom with his hands in the air.

Witness testimony included:

• Robin Moorehead Smith, Asher’s landlord at Fox Run mobile home park in Greenbrier. Smith testified about an incident that occurred two weeks before the murder during which time she was required to intervene to remove Britton from the premises. Smith told jurors that on that day, Britton, carrying a cane and behaving “erratically,” approached her demanding to be added to Asher’s lease. Smith also testified Britton told her about stealing money from family members and other various indiscretions before he confessed to Smith that he was “...gonna cut that b**ch’s throat.” Smith testified that she later contacted Asher to tell her it was OK to come home and that upon entering Asher’s mobile home, three knives had been stuck into a door, and the words, “Die b**ch,” had been formed in children’s magnetic alphabet letters on the refrigerator. When she encouraged Asher to file a police report, she reportedly told Smith that she couldn’t do that “because she had a warrant.” When questioned by the defense, Smith testified that Asher had lived in the home approximately six months before she died. Britton was there “most of the time,” she said, and admitted she had never seen him assault Asher. The last time she saw Asher alive, she testified, was two days before her body was discovered.

• Randall Reed, inmate at Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office and longtime friend to Asher. Reed, currently incarcerated on various felony drug charges, told jurors he had grown up with Asher and the pair had been friends “for a long, long time.” Reed said Asher was murdered before his most recent commitment to jail. He recounted a phone call from Aug. 2010, during which time Asher called him sounding “scared and distraught,” because she was afraid Britton was outside of her home, and asked Reed to come to the residence. Reed testified that he was initially hesitant to acquiesce her request, because Britton and Asher had a relationship “like a yo-yo.” “It was kind of pointless,” Reed said. “She would get rid of him and then call him back.” When Asher asked Reed for a weapon to use for her protection, Reed testified he provided a silver-handed butterfly knife. Britton, Reed said, was often jealous of Asher; though he, too, admitted to defense attorneys that he never witnessed Britton assault Asher.

• Dena Owens. Owens testified that at the time of her death, Asher had been working as a caregiver for her mother-in-law for approximately a year. Owens said over the course of the year, she came to know Asher was a “sweet, loving girl,” and knew of Asher’s second job and of her relationship with Britton, whom she described as “controlling, abusive and mean.” Owens told the jury that uncharacteristic of her behavior, on Aug. 11, 2010, Asher didn’t show up to work on time. When she contacted Asher to inquire as to her whereabouts, Asher reportedly told her that Britton had broken in to her house the night before and had choked her, burned her and hit her in the face. Owens testified that later when she arrived at the home, Asher had markings on her face and showed her a burn mark. Owens said she learned of her death on Saturday after she had attempted to call Asher and someone else answered her phone.

• Austin Hodges, former Conway Christian High School football player. Hodges testified he was on his way to morning football practice around 7:30 a.m. Aug. 10 at Beaverfork Lake when he noticed a man wearing a fishing hat and carrying a cane walking down the road. Hodges said at first, he believed the man was a coach and stopped to ask him if he needed a ride. The man, whom Hodges identified as Britton, asked for a ride to Fox Run mobile home park. During the ride, Hodges testified he and Britton talked about “Jesus Christ ... and about how God had blessed him.” Hodges said Britton offered to reimburse for gasoline for the ride, telling him he was carrying $278. Hodges said he refused the offer before dropping Britton off outside of the home around 7:50 a.m. He testified he watched Britton walk through the property’s chain link fence, but did not see him enter the home; nor did he notice any vehicles at the residence.

• Justin Shirley, spouse to Asher’s sister. Shirley testified that when Asher failed to appear at his home as planned on Saturday morning and didn’t answer the phone, his wife asked him to go to Asher’s residence and check on her sister. From outside of the home, Shirley said he noticed the blinds had been knocked from a window by the front door, which was also open slightly. When Shirley knocked on the door, it opened more, and from outside of the home, Shirley observed blood. He then left the home and notified Smith, who accompanied him back to the home. Inside, Shirley checked Asher’s bedroom, which he described as “slightly destroyed,” but empty of any person. Shirley testified he then noticed “drag marks” in a large pool of blood on the kitchen floor that led to the back door. When he went to the back of the residence, he discovered Asher lying naked on the ground, face down. Shirley said he also noticed that her car was gone from the residence, and said that Britton was the only one who would have taken her car. When defense counsel asked about the Dodge Intrepid belonging to Asher, Shirley said he had seen Britton drive it “a few times ... (and) other than that, no one.”

• Cpl. Wayne Heathscott, White County Sheriff’s Office. Heathscott testified he was working as shift Aug. 14 2010, when a BOLO was issued for Britton and the Dodge Intrepid. Heathscott said he didn’t know why FCSO was looking for Britton, but responded to the post office in El Paso after one of his deputies located Britton at the scene. Heathscott described Britton as “agitated and mad” at having been caught. Britton was “very angry,” Heathscott said, and didn’t want to cooperate. After a brief struggle, Heathscott said Britton was handcuffed and placed into the patrol unit before being transported to the Faulkner County line and relinquished to FCSO deputies. Also given to deputies was a fishing hat and various unknown personal property taken from Britton’s person at the time of his detention. During the transport, Heathscott testified Britton asked, “Why don’t you just shoot me?”

• Joe Morgan, former deputy with WCSO. Morgan testified that while assisting deputies at the El Paso post office, Britton asked him to return his knife “...before y’all hang me, fry me, whatever you’re going to do...” so that he could “cut his own throat.”

• Investigator Larry Nokes, FCSO. Nokes told jurors he was working as a patrolman Aug. 14, 2010 when he responded to the scene following the discovery of Asher’s body. After securing the residence for other investigators, he drove to the county line to retrieve Britton from WCSO deputies. Nokes testified that on the ride, Britton was “very talkative.” Nokes said Britton recited poetry and talked about a girl he called Danger “sometimes in past tense and sometimes in present tense.” “He’d say, ‘You can ask Danger.’ Then he’d say, ‘No, you can’t.” Nokes said throughout the transport, Britton never asked why he was detained.

Court recessed following Nokes’ testimony.

As Britton was escorted from the courtroom, he shouted to his mother, who was sitting in the front row, “Mama, you be careful. I mean that. Take care of my property. Nothing’s for sale.”

The trial is scheduled through Friday, though attorneys have said it may end sooner.

Prosecutors have waived the death penalty in the case against Britton. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Court will resume 9 a.m. Wednesday.

(Find daily trial recaps online at www.thecabin.net. Staff writer Megan Reynolds can be reached by e-mail at megan.reynolds@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, visit www.thecabin.net.)

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New Kid in Town
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New Kid in Town 02/19/13 - 09:02 pm
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Cody Hiland said...

So the prosecuting attorney is finally prosecuting a case? I've noticed that he alone is quoted in trial stories, though to my knowledge he has only tried one case thus far. Did he deliver opening statements in this trial, or is this another example of the Log Cabin quoting him rather than the attorney handling the case?

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