A Miller County circuit judge declared a mistrial Tuesday in the re-trial of a Texarkana man accused of killing another man over a parking space.
Marvin Arrell Stanton, 52, was found guilty of murder in 2016 by a Miller County jury and sentenced to life for murder, plus an additional 15 years for using a firearm. In 2017, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed Stanton’s conviction and sent the case back to Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson for a new trial.
A jury of eight women and four men was selected Monday morning. Opening statements and testimony began Monday afternoon. Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Barrett described Stanton as a 340-pound bully who started a fight with someone much smaller and then pulled out a gun when the smaller man bested him in a fistfight. Defense attorney Patrick Benca of Little Rock told the jury Stanton was acting in self-defense or in defense of his friend, Emily Robinson, when he pulled his .45 caliber pistol and shot Hamilton once in the abdomen.
Problems arose during Little Rock defense attorney Patrick Benca’s cross examination of the last witness to take the stand Monday. Lavon Strong testified under questioning from Barrett that he, Hamilton and Sanmarcos Jacobs were about to leave the Raceway convenience store on State Line Avenue in Texarkana, Ark., when four motorcycles pulled into the parking lot.
While three of the motorcyclists parked near the entrance of the store, Stanton pulled his bike up near where Hamilton had parked his truck next to a curb near some gas pumps. Strong testified that Stanton shouted at Hamilton to, “Move the f-ing truck,” prompting Hamilton and his companions to get out of Hamilton’s truck. Strong said Hamilton was trying to calm the situation when Stanton lifted his shirt and showed a holstered firearm before he shoved Hamilton into the side of his truck. Strong testified that Hamilton was prevailing in the fight when Robinson stepped in and began pulling on Hamilton’s shirt.
Strong said the men fell to the ground and it appeared the scuffle was over as both stood, breathing heavily. Strong said Stanton pulled the gun and fired.
Under cross examination, Benca asked Strong if he recalled speaking with him in March of 2018. Strong didn’t remember Benca but he did remember Benca’s associate. Benca produced a transcript of the conversation he later told the court he recorded, without Strong’s knowledge, during an interview with Strong at the Bi-State Justice Center jail where he was being held on a charge pending in Bowie County, Texas.
Barrett objected and told Judge Johnson that her office was never provided with copies of the audio recording or transcript as is required during the discovery process of a case. Both sides are required to exchange evidence and other materials they expect to present at trial. Benca argued that such disclosure wasn’t necessary because he didn’t intend to introduce the recording or the transcript and was only using it to refresh Strong’s memory of their discussion.
After Johnson dismissed the jury Monday evening, the two sides argued about the recording and the transcript. Johnson told Benca and Barrett to research the issue and come to court Tuesday morning prepared to give arguments.
Tuesday morning, Barrett and Benca clashed. Barrett accused Benca of attempting to manipulate a witness’ testimony and complained that Strong’s defense attorney should have been present during the interview. Benca argued that he was simply using the transcript to remind Strong of something he previously said.
Barrett informed the court that she spoke with Strong after court adjourned Monday and that Strong told her he thought he was speaking to Hamilton’s family’s lawyer regarding a civil wrongful death suit. Benca accused Barrett of influencing Strong’s testimony by speaking to Strong about the case before Benca finished his cross examination of him.
After the jury was brought into the courtroom and Strong again took the stand for more questions from Benca, Strong testified that he felt Benca misled him and coerced him into making certain statements. Johnson ordered the jury from the courtroom.
Benca told Johnson he didn’t expect Strong to deny statements Benca said Strong made during the March jail interview and that now that he has, Benca may have to be a witness to testify about the recording and the interview. Benca also complained that Strong’s negative characterization of Benca could harm Stanton’s right to “effective counsel and a fair trial.”
Barrett opposed Benca’s motion for a mistrial.
“The defense cannot create a situation to create a mistrial,” Barrett said. “He knew what his response would be.”
After taking a break, Johnson returned and confirmed with Benca that his request for a mistrial was based on his concern that he may now need to testify for Stanton as a witness. Johnson granted the defense’s request for a mistrial and dismissed the jury.
A new trial date hasn’t been scheduled. If convicted of murder, Stanton faces 10 to 40 years or life in prison. He could receive an additional 15 years if a jury determines he used a firearm in the commission of a felony. Stanton is currently free on bond.