No. 10 Crime Story of the Year: Police are still investigating woman's death at Lovers Leap

Friday, December 28, 2012
Authorities look down from the top of Lovers Leap after Crystal McCarley, 44, allegedly fell from the 200-foot-tall bluff to her death, with only her husband witnessing the accident. Police are still investigating.

GREEN FOREST -- Carroll County News' No. 10 crime story of the year has not actually been deemed a crime officially, but authorities are investigating the death of a woman at Lovers Leap as such and are awaiting autopsy and other reports, they say.

Crystal McCarley, 44, died after she fell from a 200-foot-high bluff Lovers Leap southwest of Green Forest. The investigation is centering on how, exactly, she came to fall from the top of the bluff, police have said.

The only witness to the fall was McCarley's husband, Christopher Leighton Branning, 39, of Green Forest.

After McCarley fell from the bluff, Branning called 911, authorities said. "He was panicked and very hard to understand," said Carroll County Sheriff Bob Grudek.

When police arrived on the scene, Branning was pacing, muttering and mumbling to himself. Officers feared for his well-being, and he was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation.

"The death of the woman has currently been deemed an accident, but since there were no other witnesses besides Branning, we will continue with our investigation," Grudek said at the time.

Branning is not charged in his wife's death, and officials with the Carroll County Prosecuting Attorney's Office were not able to comment on the case this week because the investigation is still under way.

Branning has had past run-ins with authorities, including previous charges of kidnapping, domestic battery, stalking, aggravated assault, battery, violation of a protection order, terroristic threatening, criminal mischief and escape, according to arrest reports.

In 2005, Branning was arrested in Boone County for stalking and first-degree terroristic threatening, and he was sentenced to 192 months at the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

In 2008, Branning pleaded no contest to three counts of terroristic threatening and one count of domestic battery that arose from an incident in Berryville.

In 2010, he was arrested and charged with felony third-degree domestic battery, two counts of misdemeanor third-degree battery, felony terroristic threatening, and felony aggravated assault on a family member.

He is currently incarcerated by the Arkansas Department of Corrections for parole violations.

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