Virginia Ann Hyatt was sentenced to an automatic term of life without parole Monday evening after a Miller County jury found her guilty of capital murder in the 2013 shooting of a fellow square dancer.
James Hyatt packed a few belongings and left Virginia Hyatt the day after Thanksgiving 2013. He testified that he and his family were convinced Virginia Hyatt intended to kill him and attempt to make his death appear a suicide because of statements she made to his sisters. James Hyatt said he warned Wheelington that Virginia Hyatt is a dangerous, unstable person capable of violence, but Wheelington, an outgoing and friendly person, thought she could handle the situation.
Virginia Hyatt drove to Wheelington’s house on South Valley Road to confront her Dec. 2, demanding that she give James Hyatt back to her. That night, Virginia Hyatt threw one of her husband’s shirts at Wheelington after a square dance class. Wheelington told a friend she was “freaked out” by Virginia Hyatt’s behavior.
The next morning Virginia Hyatt went to Wheelington’s home again, armed with a .38 caliber pistol which has not been recovered. As Wheelington sat in a swivel chair sipping coffee on her porch, Virginia Hyatt shot her five times. Material from the brightly colored bathrobe Wheelington wore was found embedded in the back of the chair, leading Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Chuck Black to theorize the first bullet hit Wheelington as she sat.
Wheelington’s body was discovered late that afternoon by two friends who were among many concerned that Wheelington wasn’t answering her phone. The last person to speak to Wheelington at 7:57 a.m. the morning of the murder told investigators Wheelington said Hyatt was coming up her driveway before she ended the call.
Virginia Hyatt claimed she was in a McDonald’s drive thru buying a sausage biscuit for her mother at 8 a.m. but surveillance footage from the restaurant showed she was there at 9:30 a.m., an hour and a half later than when neighbors heard a series of gunshots coming from the area of Wheelington’s home. Virginia Hyatt, who did not take the stand in her own defense, told detectives she spent an hour visiting her mother’s nursing home that morning when she was actually there for only 12 minutes.
“These five shots were fired with pre-meditation and deliberation,” Chuck Black argued. “This was personal. The person who killed Patti had a personal reason to do it. This was not a robbery murder.
Virginia Hyatt is the only person who had a motive to do it.”
Stephanie Black told the jury not to be swayed by arguments from Texarkana lawyers Damon Young, John Pickett and Bruce Condit.
“They’re going to say you can’t convict because there are no eye witnesses,” Stephanie Black argued. “If the law required eye witness, there would be murderers going free everywhere.”
As Circuit Judge Randy Wright read the verdict, Virginia Hyatt maintained the same vacant and stoic expression she wore throughout her trial. Because prosecutors were not seeking the death penalty, Wright sentenced Hyatt to life without the possibility of parole, the only other punishment allowed for capital murder under Arkansas law.