Two teens accused of kidnapping and strangling a Faulkner County woman in early July pleaded not guilty Tuesday to capital murder and other felony charges regarding the Wooster woman's disappearance.
Felony charges were formally filed Friday afternoon, and a press conference announcing charges against the Pine Bluff teens was held Tuesday morning by 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorneys at the Conway Police Department.
Luke Ferguson, 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorney, announced shortly after 10:30 a.m. that 16-year-old Robert Smith III and 18-year-old Tacori D. Mackrell are each charged with one count each of capital murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and theft of property. Despite Smith's age, he is charged as an adult in Elvia Fragstein's murder.
The two teens each appeared Monday afternoon in striped jumpsuits and shackles before Faulkner County Circuit Judge Troy Braswell Jr.
Smith took the stand first as his attorney requested Braswell read off the felony information filed against the 16-year-old to ensure the Pine Bluff teen understood the allegations filed against him.
"The said defendant in Faulkner County, did unlawfully and feloniously on or about July 7, 2018, acting alone or with one or more other persons, did commit or attempt to commit robbery and or kidnapping, and in the course of an in furtherance of the felony or in immediate flight therefrom, he and or accomplice caused the death of Elvia Fragstein under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, thereby committing the offense of capital murder, said offense being a Class Y felony against the peace and dignity of the state of Arkansas," Braswell said minutes after the clock struck 1:30 p.m.
After reading off the felony information tied to the capital murder charge, Braswell immediately read off the criminal information associated with the other three charges as Elvia's husband, 79-year-old Helumt Fragstein, watched Tuesday's court proceedings from the front row.
Ron Davis Jr, who represents Smith, said he intends to file a motion to transfer the 16-year-old's case to juvenile court. He also plans to call witnesses to Smith's upcoming October pretrial in hopes of getting a bond amount set on the 16-year-old's behalf. In planning of calling for a transfer hearing in Smith's case, Davis said he will also file a request to have his client undergo a mental evaluation.
"In preparation for [a transfer hearing], I would ask for a mental evaluation for my client," he said.
As Mackrell walked up to the stand, accompanied by defense attorney Bill James, those in the audience could see writing on the back of his jumpsuit as he entered a not guilty plea.
"Blood makes us [kin], and loyalty makes us family," was apparently written in marker onto the back of Mackrell's jumpsuit.
Now that each Pine Bluff teen has formally been charged in Elvia's death, the probable cause affidavits related to their charges have also been released.
The affidavits lay out a timeline regarding local authorities pinpointing Smith and Mackrell as the suspects in this matter. Online records also hint gang activity was at play when Elvia was murdered.
Elvia was reported missing shortly after midnight July 8 by her husband.
Helmut previously told the Log Cabin Democrat he was worried about his wife when she did not return home at 5 p.m. July 7 as she said she would, adding the couple is "very prompt" with their time management.
Faulkner County Sheriff's Office investigators soon reviewed video footage from businesses within the Conway Commons shopping center after bank records showed Elvia's final credit card transactions were made at T.J. Maxx. In reviewing footage, Elvia is seen walking to her silver 2013 Honda CR-V in the parking lot. Authorities also learned the two teens arrived at the shopping center at 2:37 p.m. on the day in question, noting "footage shows the two unusually moving from parking space to parking space in the blue PT Cruiser, eventually ending up in close proximity to T.J. Maxx."
On July 11, Elvia's body was located in a wooded area along Gibb Anderson Road in Jefferson County.
"While discussing possible motives, I learned of a gang called 'MG' (murder gang) out of the Pine Bluff area," FCSO investigator Andy Cook wrote in his report. "I was told the members of the gang are typically young black males. Later on, we contacted [the Arkansas Crime Information Center] to see if any law enforcement agency had ran Mrs. Fragstein's license plate sometime after she was last seen walking out of T.J. Maxx. A short time later, we learned an Arkansas State trooper ran her license plate on [July 7] at approximately 5:00 p.m. on Interstate 530 around Gravel Pit Road, which is outside of Pine Bluff, Arkansas."
Eventually, two of the suspects' sisters came forward regarding their suspicions after information regarding the crime began circulating online, according to the affidavit.
Sheriff's office investigators went to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office on July 15 to question Mackrell, who was being held at the Jefferson County jail on unrelated charges, about Elvia's murder and disappearance. After being Mirandized, the 18-year-old suspect initially denied being close friends with Smith but later changed his story once investigators showed him surveillance photos that showed the two teens together at the Conway shopping center.
"Once the photos were shown, Mr. Mackrell admitted that was him and Mr. Smith in the photos and that they were in Conway on that date," the affidavit reads in part. "Mr. Mackrell stated Mr. Smith had picked him up from a bingo hall off Oak Street, where he had rode with his mother and attended. They proceeded to the Conway Commons in an attempt to talk to girls. Mr. Mackrell and Smith drove around the parking lot smoking marijuana. Mr. Mackrell acknowledged the evidence laid out before him up until the mentioning of the Honda CR-V. Mr. Mackrell's demeanor changed, becoming defensive to the point he exercised his right to legal counsel. At that time, the interview was concluded."
On July 16, Jefferson County officials executed a search warrant at Smith's residence, where they seized a pair of shoes, blue jeans and a T-shirt that he reportedly wore while at the shopping center on the day in question. According to the affidavit, "suspected blood stains" were located on the shirt and shoes that were seized as evidence.
Online records show Mackrell asked to speak to investigators a second time on July 16. During this interview, he admitted to being at the Conway Commons shopping center and also said "an unknown Caucasian male with a .357 caliber revolver" pointed the teens in Elvia's direction "and instructed them to take her."
"Mr. Mackrell recalled that she got into the driver side of her vehicle and he got into the back seat," the affidavit states. "Mr. Mackrell went on to recall that he reached around and grabbed her, pulling her into the back seat between the front seats. Mr. Smith go into the vehicle and wrapped his belt around her legs while Mr. Mackrell wrapped his belt around her arms. Mr. Smith helped get her into the back of the vehicle and put her in the floor board between the back seat and the front seats. Mr. Smith then jumped into the driver's seat and took off."
The LCD asked Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Carol Crews during Tuesday's press conference if the man Mackrell described to investigators had been identified. However, at this point in the investigation, she said she could not comment on the matter.
According to the affidavit, Mackrell's recollection of this possible other suspect was inconsistent. Mackrell said the man stayed with the two teens until they dumped Elvia's body, and other times he said the man left and later returned.
When questioned about Elvia's demeanor during the drive to Jefferson County, the 18-year-old suspect said "she was straight," also noting she would "holler" and moan when hit. Mackrell also graphically described disposing of Elvia's body, adding he believed by that point that she was dead.
""Mr. Mackrell was asked when she was pulled out, was she alive then? Mr Mackrell stated she was beat up and when her head hit concrete, 'BOOM,'" the affidavit reads in part. "Mr. Mackrell stated again, her head just hit, 'BOP.' Mr. Mackrell stated that '[N]o words were said, noting ... if your head hit the ground that hard and don't say nothing, then yea, she probably dead before they got down the dirt road."
The state medical examiner determined in late August that Elvia died of strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head and cervical spine.
Mackrell, who also pleaded not guilty to capital murder Tuesday, is scheduled to appear next in Faulkner County Circuit Corut for a pretrial hearing at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 17. Smith is scheduled to appear in circuit court at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 2 regarding the aforementioned case.
Regarding the process leading up to formal charges being filed against the two Pine Bluff teens, Ferguson said he wanted to thank the efforts of Sheriff Tim Ryals, CPD Chief Jody Spradlin, and Jefferson County officials.
"These guys and their investigators, their detectives, they were on this case from the beginning. They kept us well informed from the beginning and they have put together a thorough case file for our review, so I want to thank them and tell them how much I appreciate all their hard work on this case," he said. "The team effort on this case was not limited to just Faulkner County. I also want to recognize and thank Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office as well as Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter and the hard work they’ve done on this matter in Pine Bluff, which is instrumental in putting this case file together."