After over an hour of deliberating Thursday in chambers at Faulkner County courthouse, a jury returned a guilty verdict in the capital murder trial of Ronald Britton.
Britton, 35, of Beebe, had 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. 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.
In testimony Wednesday, Britton said Asher “looked good, cleaned house, cooked good and took care of her kids.” “I respect that,” Britton said.
Britton easily recalled from memory specific dates of incarceration and releases from prison spanning over a decade, but refused to tell jurors where he was at the time of the incident, and instead denied that he had anything to do with the murder.
He did tell jurors he had accepted a ride to Asher’s home earlier in the day, but arrived at the residence to discover both doors locked and left.
Britton said he was “upset completely” about what had happened to Asher.
On Wednesday, defense attorneys called Dr. Robert Forrest, a forensic psychologist from Little Rock, to testify that Britton showed symptoms of bipolar disorder and was likely in a state of mania at the time of the murder.
Forrest said in psychological exams, Britton was intentionally evasive when speaking about the events surrounding the circumstances of the death despite the fact that defense counsel had hired him.
On cross examination, Forrest admitted to prosecutors that he had only reviewed about 40 minutes of Britton’s entire statement to investigators in 2010, which prosecutors later said accounted for about half of the interview.
In closing arguments Thursday morning, prosecutor Troy Braswell told jurors counsel was using the insanity defense because “there’s no other option.” “So you pay someone $11,700 to examine him and say he cannot conform his conduct,” Braswell said.
Braswell later told jurors the issue was not whether Britton has a mental disease, but rather a question of “did he know the difference between right and wrong?”
Defense attorney Pat Aydelott told jurors that it is not often he sees his clients “at the bottom of a dog pile with four deputies on top of them,” referring to an incident that occurred Wednesday morning in the courtroom.
Aydelott apologized for Britton’s behavior but told jurors “In a way, it was good you saw that.”
“If he is guilty, is he impaired?” Aydelott asked.
Jurors began deliberations around 10:50 a.m. and returned to the courtroom with the verdict around 12:30 p.m.
After the verdict was read, Britton said, “Bravo, bravo alpha delta.”
Following the sentencing of life without parole by Judge Charles E. Clawson, Britton cited Patrick Henry and shouted, “Give me liberty or give me death,” before proceeding to talk about satellite phones “eternities” and lethal injection.
Britton also began to sing. He told Clawson he would “like to be transferred immediately” and had “no concern about an appeal.”
Britton continued shouting as several bailiffs escorted him from the courtroom.
Asher’s family members did not want to speak to the media, but delivered a statement through prosecutors thanking everyone involved in the process for their hard work in seeking justice.
"Anybody who would suggest that evil doesn't exist in the world today hasn't met Ronald Britton," said Prosecutor Cody Hiland. "Thankfully the dangerous behavior exhibited throughout the trial this week has come to an end with this guilty verdict, as has the time for honoring himself. The focus for the Asher family can now be placed where it should be, on Michelle's memory. Our prayers go out to her family as they work to move past this terrible chapter in their life."
(Video credit: Lisa Hutson, Today's THV, Channel 11, Little Rock)