Accused murderer's son allowed to visit him in county jail
Over objections by Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers, Judge Alan D. Epley ruled Monday in Berryville that Sheriff Chuck Medford will allow Cory Lynn Howerton, accused of the murder of Darrell "Mike" Heaster, to visit with his seven-year-old son.
Defense Attorney Kent McLemore argued for the visitation after obtaining testimony from Nicole Howerton-Sperduto, mother of the boy, testified that she still wants her son to be able to visit his father.
McLemore said the defense will likely want the boy to testify in the sentencing phase of the trial, if Howerton is found guilty in the burning death of the Berryville man. The boy's visiting with his father may help the defense in developing mitigating facts to argue for a less harsh sentence.
Howerton, 29, of rural Eureka Springs, faces the death penalty. He allegedly robbed Heaster, then dowsed him with gasoline and burned him on Aug. 1, 2002, in the woods near County Road 305. Heaster died one month later.
In ruling, Epley said it applied only in Howerton's case, due to the nature of the charges and plans of the defense to use the child's testimony.
Visitation will be accomplished in compliance with "all other requirements of the sheriff's visitation policy," Epley said, "as long as the child is accompanied by his mother." The mother shall remain free to remove the child from the situation at any point during the visit.
Medford's visitation policy is limited to persons 18 years or older, apparently due to visitation taking place in an area shared where booking of prisoners takes place. Visitation is via telephone through thick glass. Epley declined to make the visitation any more "intimate," noting security concerns.
In making the ruling, Epley cited due process of both the state and federal constitutions to allow the defense to develop its case. He said he did not believe the court can interfere with the gathering of evidence by the defense, and cited a rule which allows the court to make other orders to allow disclosure of such evidence. Further, he said that he did not believe he could rule on the relevancy of such information until after it is revealed.
After Epley announced his ruling, Rogers continued to protest, cautioning that it could apply to all defendants.
"That will be my ruling," the judge concluded.
In the murder case against Brandon Lee "Buffalo" Webb, 22, of Goodson, Mo., and David Coy Greenhaw, 25, of Springdale, a hearing was set for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 18 to consider photographs of the scene where one-time police informant Richard W. Gerrard Jr. was shot to death on June 4, 2003.
On a motion by defense attorney Doug Coppernoll, Epley ordered that no reference shall be made at trial by witnesses regarding Webb's reported conviction of a similar crime in Texas.
Epley granted Coppernoll's motion for Leslie Keith Ward, who pled guilty to a reduced charge in the case earlier and agreed to testify against his co-defendants, to be ruled "an accomplice as a matter of law." Rogers stated that the motion might be a defense attempt to set things up for a directed verdict.
Coppernoll is to also brief Judge Epley regarding a motion for tool mark analysis to not be scientifically acceptable. The evidence apparently regards bullet casings.
Coppernoll, who came in on the case late, said that of more than 40 video and audio tapes of witnesses, he will supply transcriptions of two he may use to the prosecution.
Epley ruled that the defense team of Coppernoll and McLemore will be limited to eight pre-emptory challenges of jurors when the two men go to trial.
Regarding compensation to witnesses under subpoena, Epley told McLemore he should take that up with public defenders' commission.
In the attempted murder case against Coby R. Sullivan, 43, of Eureka Springs, defense attorney John Casteel will use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain telephone records and phone records of the victim/witness coordinator.
Sullivan is to go to trial on Jan. 27 in Eureka Springs, for allegedly attempting to kill his wife. He is charged with attempted first-degree murder, false imprisonment, second-degree battery, aggravated assault, two counts of terroristic threatening, and an enhance penalty for an offense committed in the presence of a child.
A battery charge against Victor Arellano Lozano, 45, of Green Forest, was dismissed, and it was reported that a warrant has been issued for the suspected principal actor in the July 11 incident in which a man was injured with a knife.
The following were arraigned on charges during court procedures Monday:
Charles Grandville Hamilton Jr., 21, of Green Forest, pled guilty to reduced charges of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia possession, Class C felonies, during circuit court action on Oct. 5 in Berryville.
Hamilton was sentenced to 10 years in prison with eight years suspended, and ordered to pay $1,400 in fines, fees and costs starting 90 days after his release. He is to also testify in the meth manufacture and firearms case against Charles Richard Thomas, 26, of Green Forest.
Hamilton and Thomas were among four persons arrested on June 17, 2003, in connection with a search warrant executed at Thomas' residence on County Road 922.
That search produced a number of ingredients and equipment commonly used to manufacture meth, along with eight marijuana plants and a .22-caliber rifle.