Judge: Acuna-Sanchez to be held until trial
CARROLL COUNTY -- Victor Acuna-Sanchez, the Berryville man accused of murdering Laura Acevez on Dec. 31, is to remain behind bars until his trial, a judge ordered on Wednesday afternoon.
Also Wednesday, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Devon Closser said prosecutors indeed planned to pursue capital murder charges in the case, though she said they had not yet decided whether they would seek the death penalty.
Acevez, 21, was found in the early hours of Dec. 31, lying unconscious on the floor of her apartment, badly beaten, with a gunshot wound to the head. She later died at Mercy Hospital of Northwest Arkansas, in Rogers.
Acuna-Sanchez was arrested later that day, on charges of criminal mischief and violating a no-contact order. He had allegedly poured bleach in Acevez's gas tank only two days prior, but police had been unable to locate him.
Family members of Acevez said Acuna-Sanchez had terrorized her for two years. He was already charged with aggravated assault and third-degree battery in relation to two previous alleged attacks against her.
The two had a 5-month-old son together, who is now being cared for by Acevez's family.
After discovering Aceves on New Year's Eve, sheriff's deputies kicked in the door of Acuna-Sanchez's mother's cabin on Bluebird Mountain and found him hiding in the shower with a .22-caliber handgun at his feet, authorities said.
Acuna-Sanchez, 18, was led into the District Courtroom in Berryville by a bailiff Wednesday afternoon. The prisoner wore shackles around his wrists and ankles, but appeared relaxed and emotionless as Judge Scott Jackson addressed him.
After reviewing the evidence, the judge decided there was probable cause to support a charge of capital murder -- the most severe form of homicide under state law. If tried and convicted, Acuna-Sanchez would face the penalty of death or life imprisonment without parole.
In his ruling, Jackson relied on the affadavit's recounting of autopsy results and ballistic tests, as well as Acuna-Sanchez's long history of alleged violence against Acevez.
According to the affidavit of probable cause submitted by the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, the Arkansas State Medical Examiner ruled Acevez's death a homicide caused by a gunshot wound to the head.
A spent .22-caliber bullet was found lodged in Acevez's skull.
That bullet; an unfired round from Acevez's apartment; and the gun and several bullets found with Acuna-Sanchez at the time of his arrest were later sent to the Arkansas State Crime Lab for analysis.
According to the affidavit, the bullet found in Acevez's skull was too badly damaged to be matched conclusively with the gun.
However, investigators were able to determine that the round found in the victim's apartment had been "cycled through the action" of the weapon found with Acuna-Sanchez, the report said.
Acuna-Sanchez is scheduled to be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 11, at the Circuit Courthouse in Berryville.
Circuit Judge Kent Crow has requested a special judge be assigned to the pending case, as well as to the case arising from the earlier felony charge against Acuna-Sanchez, because Acevez used to be a tenant of his.