A man who buried his best friend beneath the floor of his backyard shed was sentenced to a maximum 10-year sentence and assessed a maximum $10,000 fine following a one-day, punishment-only trial at the Miller County courthouse.
Chad Allen Jernigan, 42, pleaded guilty to abuse of a corpse but asked that a jury determine his punishment.
At trial, witnesses testified that Jernigan was in the habit of using and selling methamphetamine and that at the time of Richard York’s disappearance he had a marijuana growing room on the upper floor of his two-story backyard shed in July 2017. Richard York, 45, was helping Jernigan move furniture July 4, 2017. That was the last day Richard York was seen alive.
Richard York’s family reported him missing in mid-July 2017 to the Texarkana, Texas, Police Dept. Detective Tabitha Smith testified that Jernigan told her several different stories about dropping Richard York off. One account led to a search of a wooded area near Bubba Green’s wrecker service by roughly 50 volunteers and police searching with dogs. Another account from Jernigan included leaving him in the company of two black men in a convenience store parking lot. Neither was true.
Witnesses testified that autopsy results showed Richard York died of methamphetamine intoxication. Jernigan, apparently in attempt to avoid police attention to his illegal conduct, bound Richard York’s hands and feet with old coaxial cable and wrapped him in plastic. Jernigan ripped up the floor of a corner of his shed, altered the floor joists beneath and placed Richard York’s remains inside, covering them with concrete, replacing the floor and covering the area with shelves and stacks of items.
Jernigan was once married to Richard York’s sister, Angela York, and they have a daughter, age 17. Jernigan remained close to the York family and described Richard York as his best friend, according to witnesses.
Richard York’s family searched for him for nearly a year and Jernigan was aware of their distress. Will Guyton testified that he was a friend of Jernigan’s and that in 2018, Jernigan confided in him about the location of Richard York’s body and his desire to move it to a location where it would be discovered, ending the mystery of his whereabouts.
Guyton told his wife and testified that she told someone else when the two were having marital difficulties. Eventually someone told police and in July 2018, members of the Texarkana, Ark., Police Department obtained a search warrant for Jernigan’s property in the 4500 block of Union Road in Texarkana, Ark.
Knowing that Jernigan had guns inside, officers waited until he left the house to arrest him. Detectives Jason Haak and Wayne Easley testified that Jernigan drove at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour before finally stopping.
Easley testified that after his arrest, Jernigan confessed and described the exact location where Richard York’s body was buried. Easley said Jernigan had recently built an addition onto his home and had it recently appraised for $180,000 and did not want police tearing up his residence.
Texarkana, Ark., Crime Scene Investigator Josh Jones testified as grisly photos were shown to the jury showing the slow work of digging up York’s body. The photos appeared to show mummy-like remains in the dirt. Jones said he and about 16 others worked to carefully remove dirt and pieces of concrete, placing the material on a sifter over a tarp to make sure no evidence was overlooked.
Richard York’s mother, Cynthia Hughes, testified that she thought of Jernigan as a son before her son disappeared.
“I asked you, I begged you to tell me where he was,” Hughes said. “Shame on you Chad. Shame on you.”
Richard York’s sister, Angela York, testified that she and Jernigan’s daughter now has nightmares about being buried by her father.
“My mom didn’t get to say goodbye to her baby,” Angela York testified. “One little curl of hair. That’s all she has.”
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kristian Robertson read a statement written by Jernigan’s daughter during her closing remarks.
“My father allowed me to look for my uncle relentlessly,” Robertson read from Jernigan’s daughter’s statement. “I defended my father.”
The girl’s statement continued by pointing out that her bedroom in Jernigan’s home was not far from her uncle’s hidden grave.
Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Barrett asked the jury to consider all of the minutes, hours and days Richard York’s family spent worrying and wondering where he was. Barrett said that Jernigan will be eligible for parole in about 390 days if sentenced to a 10-year term. Barrett also asked the jury to think of the tax dollars spent by police departments in Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Ark., in the case.
In addition to the 10-year prison term and $10,000 fine, the state and defense agreed that Jernigan should pay $1,000 in restitution to Richard York’s family for funeral expenses.
Jernigan was represented by Managing Public Defender Jason Mitchell and Assistant Public Defender Kerry Wood.