The two teens arrested at the scene of 66 broken or overturned headstones at a rural and historic cemetery will remain in juvenile detention until their first appearance, set for April 12.
The decision was made at a detention hearing Monday in which Circuit Judge Rhonda Wood found reason to order $10,000 bonds for both suspects, "house arrest" being a condition of pretrial release.
Charges have not yet been filed against the teens, one 15 and the other 16, but Maj. Andy Shock of The Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office said last week that his office has discussed the possibility of 18 counts "destruction or removal of a cemetery or grave marker," a class-C felony offense. The damage was done to the Cypress Valley Cemetery near Vilonia.
Wade Hodge, a 20th Judicial District deputy prosecutor specializing in juvenile cases, had requested that the court hold both suspects until trial. Wood said after the hearing that she could not find "sufficient evidence to find that keeping them in detention was the least restrictive means to protect society," which is the legal requirement that must be met to hold juvenile suspects without bond.
Neither are likely to be released, though, Wood said, as one suspect was on probation at the time of his arrest (and this probation has been revoked) and the other suspect has indicated that he will not be able to post bond. Laws protecting the identity and records of juvenile suspects prohibited Wood on Monday from releasing what previous offense or offenses the probation relates to, but 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Marcus Vaden said that both suspects have sufficient juvenile criminal history "to show a track record for not abiding by the law or orders of the court."
Among the responses this incident has prompted was an e-mail sent Wednesday to Vaden’s and Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggin’s offices by Robert L. Stroupe, Faulkner County Coordinator for the Arkansas Gravestones Project. In his e-mail, Stroupe states that he "must insist that the fullest extent of the law be prosecuted to set an example that we will not tolerate such activities in Faulkner County or the State of Arkansas.
"Although only teenagers," his e-mail also states, "as an advocate for the preservation of Arkansas history and our county cemeteries, these teenagers took a ‘don’t care’ attitude which should NOT be tolerated, and which I refuse to ignore. ... Please see that an example is made of the violators, to show these offenses will not be taken lightly by the Citizens of Faulkner County, or The Great State of Arkansas."
About 70 volunteers showed up to help in cleanup efforts Saturday, and more than 20 broken headstones were reassembled with the help of a McGee Monument representative.
Shock helped organize the cleanup effort, and said Monday that the goal of "leaving the cemetery in better shape that it was before the vandalism" had been accomplished, and the McGee Monument representative was able to repair the tombstones that had been left in "bigger chunks."
It was the smaller monuments that were broken beyond repair, and as it happened, the smaller headstones in the cemetery tended to be the oldest.
"There were still probably 10 or 12 that were the smaller headstones that were beyond our repair," Shock said. "The cemetery is going to look into getting some kind of professional to look at them. There were two right together — a brother and sister both died in 1909, on same day — totally beyond repair."
On the other hand, Shock said, a number of larger headstones left unmolested by the vandals but leaning to unstable degrees by the forces of time and gravity were set straight by the volunteers.
"It wasn’t a good thing, but we made it as good as it can possibly be, and we’re proud of that," Shock said.
As charges have not yet been filed, the teens have not had the opportunity to enter a plea of "true" or "not true" to the allegations against them (juveniles do not plead "guilty" or "not guilty"). Both are being represented by a public defender.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)