Witness testimony and a series of bizarre events surrounded the morning hours of the second day of trial for a man accused of capital murder.
As witness Aubrey Roberts was escorted from the courtroom following his testimony, Ronald Adrean Britton, Jr. rose to his feet, and when ordered by a bailiff to sit down, began to move around the area at his table in front of the jury. Britton raised his right hand in the air, looking at bailiffs and demanding they "push that button." As his motions became more erratic, four bailiffs forced Britton to the ground and after a struggle that lasted approximately two minutes, Britton was handcuffed and removed from the courtroom. During the struggle, Britton was overheard saying, "I am worried about the judge. The people of the court are in trouble." On his way out the door, Britton continued shouting.
Circuit Judge Charles Clawson asked that the record reflect that Britton instigated a disturbance "that caused all bailiffs to subdue him." Clawson said Britton was excused from the courtroom and proceedings for the remainder of the trial, then recessed for 15 minutes.
During the recess, state’s counsel was overheard telling family members that it was Britton’s constitutional right to be in the courtroom, and he would be allowed back in, though in handcuffs and shackled.
When court reconvened, Clawson called the outburst "totally unacceptable," and warned Britton that should he act out again, his continued participation would "be jeopardized."
Britton, 35, of Beebe, has pleaded not guilty to capital murder in connection with the death of 26-year-old Michelle Asher of Greenbrier.
Asher was found dead in her backyard Aug. 14, 2010 with multiple stab wounds to the neck. Britton was arrested later that day in El Paso, Ark.
The victim’s family said she had been missing for about 24 hours when a family friend went to the residence and found her body lying in the yard.
On Wednesday, jurors heard testimony by Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Matt Rice, then an investigator with FCSO, Dalton Elliott, a former deputy with FCSO and FCSO CID Commander Lt. David Hall, then a sergeant assigned to CID. All three of the men testified they responded to the crime scene in various capacities. Key evidence discovered at the home on Fox Run Lane included a bloody footprint, which Hall noted was similar in size to measurements later taken from Britton, a spot of blood on a fisherman-type hat belonging to Britton, and a half-burned cigarette left on the kitchen counter alongside a butterfly knife police believe was used to commit the murder.
Rice testified that when he later examined Britton following his apprehension, he noticed several scratches on his stomach.
Elliott testified to the responding to a call at a gas station in Cabot, where Asher’s 2002 Dodge Intrepid was discovered. Recovered from the car’s console area was a digital camera that included a self-filmed video of Britton taken on Aug. 10.
Britton addressed Asher in the video, saying that he had read her letter and knew that she thought he was with another woman "so (Asher) went to get even." Britton went on to accuse Asher of being with someone else and wished her well in finding someone who would "be good to her."
"I loved you from the beginning to the end ... (but) you caused chaos and drama so we’re through," Britton said to the camera. "I’ll be back," he added. "Remember, what goes around comes around."
Surveillance stills taken from the Cabot gas station and provided during testimony by Hall show the Intrepid being driven to the station at 10:21 p.m. Aug. 13, and two subsequent pictures of Britton walking into the gas station only a minute later.
Several forensics experts from the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory testified to the discovery of DNA from two sources identified as Asher and Britton on items including Britton’s hat, the butterfly knife, Asher’s underwear and nail clippings taken from Asher’s right hand.
DNA samples taken from the half-burned cigarette returned to Britton.
Experts testified that no DNA evidence was recovered from a pair of flip-flops taken from Britton at the time of his detention.
Roberts, an inmate at Faulkner County jail currently serving time for various theft, burglary and assault offenses, testified that he shared a cell with Britton and during that time, Britton confided in him the details of the killing. He testified that Britton said he had bleached his feet in the sink at the home of a woman he had met at Hard Riders Bar and Grill in Cabot in August.
Dr. Charles P. Kokes, chief medical examiner with the state crime lab, testified that Asher received three stab wounds to the back of her neck. One of those wounds, Kokes said, was three inches deep and perforated her carotid artery and jugular vein, causing a significant amount of bleeding that would flow and "not gush," he said. Two other stab wounds were less severe, Kokes said, but Asher’s throat was also slit and met at a point the three-inch-deep stab wound to the back of her neck.
Kokes also noted several signs of blunt force trauma including bruising to her forehead, cheeks, jaw, legs and other areas.
Asher also showed signs of defensive wounds, including a large cut to middle finger and other superficial cuts on other fingers.
As the state presented pictures from the autopsy on a courtroom television, Asher’s mother covered her eyes while Asher’s father and Britton looked at the images.
The medical examiner’s testimony was halted for about five minutes as Britton, taking repeated deep breaths, was taken into chambers briefly to confer with his attorneys.
During the break, Asher’s family members requested the photos be removed from the screen.
Kokes continued testimony and told prosecutors that despite the severe injuries, Asher was likely conscious and able to walk around for a period of time immediately following the attack.
Following Kokes’ testimony, court recessed for lunch.
Court will reconvene at 2 p.m.
(Staff writer Megan Reynolds can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)
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