A two-week jury trial was scheduled Wednesday in a capital murder case against Hunter Drexler after the Arkansas Court of Appeals denied his request to have a Faulkner County judge's decision not to have his case transferred to juvenile court overturned.
Drexler, who is now 20 years old, was 17 at the time he and three other teens allegedly killed Robert and Patricia Cogdell. He is currently charged as an adult in the July 21, 2015, shooting deaths of the Conway couple and is faced with two counts each of capital murder, aggravated robbery, theft of property obtained by threat of serious physical injury and abuse of a corpse.
As he walked into the courtroom wearing a black and white stripped jumpsuit that read "FCDC" (Faulkner County Detention Center), the young murder suspect nodded to his mother before his defense attorney, Patrick Benca, and Deputy Prosecuting attorney Joan Shipley maneuvered through unrelated trial dates to set a jury trial in this case Wednesday morning.
"Judge, I think we need at least a week, maybe even a week and a half [to try this case]," Shipley said before Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr.
Both parties ultimately agreed on setting a two-week jury trial in Drexler's case, set to begin at 9 a.m. Sept. 17 in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
Based on the jury pool summoned for this case, Braswell said he believes the first day of Drexler's trial will be spent selecting jurors to serve on his case while also hearing each party's opening statements.
Setting a trial date following Braswell's decision not to transfer Drexler's case to juvenile court was delayed after the defense counsel appealed the ruling to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
Benca had filed an appeal on Drexler's behalf with the Arkansas Court of Appeals in April 2017 asking that Braswell's ruling that denied the defense's request to transfer Drexler's case to juvenile court be overturned. Braswell had ruled in early 2017 not to transfer Drexler's case following a week-long transfer hearing held in October 2016. The final day of the hearing was delayed to Jan. 13, 2017, after the defense requested more time to consult a cellular extractions expert after Benca said he did not agree with prosecutors admitting text messages between Drexler and Justin Staton as evidence.
Staton, now 17, was 15 at the time the Cogdells, who were his legal guardians, were murdered.
During Drexler’s transfer hearing, Staton testified he and Drexler plotted to shoot and kill his grandparents while he and Drexler were incarcerated in the Faulkner County Detention Center.
Staton pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of first-degree murder in May 2016. He agreed to testify against Drexler and the two other teens accused in his grandparents’ slayings. He also gave prosecutors the passcode to his iPhone, which led to the discovery of messages between Staton and Drexler regarding the plan to kill his grandparents.
Connor Atchley, now 19, also pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 2016.
Anastasia Roberts, now 19, was 17 at the time the Cogdells were murdered.
Prosecutors said Roberts played a lesser role in the Cogdells’ deaths and recommended a lesser sentence in her case.
Roberts ultimately accepted a negotiated plea deal as well in June 2017. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison with a 20-year suspended sentence.
Drexler is scheduled to appear next at 9 a.m. Aug. 29 in circuit court for a pretrial hearing. His jury trial will be held from Sept. 17-28 in Faulkner County Circuit Court.