Arkansas Supreme Court upholds square dancer’s life sentence

Miller County Court Feb. 5, 2016. (photo by Field Walsh)

The capital murder conviction of a Texarkana, Ark., woman convicted by a jury of killing a fellow square dancer was affirmed Thursday by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Virginia Ann Hyatt, 69, was found guilty by a Miller County jury in February 2016 of capital murder in the death of Patricia “Patti” Wheelington. Wheelington was shot five times on her front porch the morning of Dec. 3, 2013.

Hyatt blamed Wheelington for the break-up of her marriage and was extremely possessive of her husband, according to testimony from witnesses at trial. In the days prior to Wheelington’s murder, Hyatt confronted her at the Guys and Dolls Square Dance Club and at Wheelington’s home.

Hyatt’s conviction is affirmed in a majority opinion written by Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Dan Kemp. Two of the court’s seven members dissented.

The majority opinion finds that the evidence to convict Hyatt presented at her trial in Miller County was sufficient to support the jury’s finding of guilt. The dissenting opinion states just the opposite, that there wasn’t enough proof to support the conviction.

“We conclude that substantial evidence supports the jury’s finding that Virginia murdered Patricia,” the majority opinion states. “We further conclude that substantial evidence supports the jury’s determination that Virginia acted with premeditation and deliberation. Specifically, it was possible for the jury to find that Virginia—who had four days to cool off after her husband left her—acted with premeditation and deliberation when, armed with a gun, she intentionally drove to Patricia’s house and shot her five times. Based on the testimony and evidence offered at trial, we hold that there was substantial evidence to support the jury’s verdict that Virginia committed capital murder.”

Because the state did not seek the death penalty, Hyatt was automatically sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

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