Eight witnesses were called to testify Monday in what attorneys on both sides of the matter described as a "horrible," "gruesome" case involving a 3-month-old child.
A jury of seven men and five women was selected by 12:36 p.m. to serve in the capital murder case against 31-year-old Zachary Lynn Atwood.
Atwood is accused of killing his infant stepson following a May 31, 2016, incident where 3-month-old Mitchell Atwood was found lying facedown and unresponsive in his portable crib.
The infant's grandmother found the unresponsive baby and immediately attempted to perform CPR as the child's mother was forced to run to a neighbor's house to call 911, deputy prosecutor John Hout said.
During opening statements, Hout said authorities learned after the baby was pronounced dead that the baby endured traumatic injuries days before he died.
Following an autopsy that was performed at the Arkansas State Crime Lab, it was confirmed the infant suffered from injuries that showed to be in different healing stages. The autopsy, Hout said, indicated the baby suffered from:Multiple blunt force trauma areas. A skull fracture. Cerebral hemorrhage. Cerebral contusion. Contusions on his scalp, nose, an arm and a foot. An older subdural hematoma. Retinal hemorrhages.
These injures were caused by a sudden, violent act "such as a slam or a punch," Hout said.
Deborah Moulton, a former co-worker of the defendant's mother, testified that she saw the baby two days prior to his death.
"He had a little bit of blood in his ears," she said when asked by Hout if she noticed anything odd about the baby that Sunday.
Moulton and Zachary's mother, Vicky Archer, worked together at the Thunderbird Citgo, which is the lone gas station in Guy.
The day before Mitchell was pronounced dead, Moulton said Archer and the baby's 5-year-old sister stopped by the gas station, which was a normal occurrence, because the family lived close to Thunderbirds. Archer, Zachary, his wife and the Atwoods' two children all lived together. While the 3-month-old was not Zachary's son, he helped raise the boy as his own, Moulton said.
On Monday, May, 31, Mitchell's sister asked Moulton for a doll. Later that day, she stopped by the Atwood residence to drop off the doll when she walked into a "stressful situation."
It was clear tensions were high, she testified, adding that Archer was pacing back and forth, Michelle or "Sunnie" who is Zachary's now-ex-wife, cuddled up next to her and Zachary was agitated and kept cussing.
While she didn't know what caused the tension, Moulton said it "seemed something was going on" prior to her arrival.
Moulton also testified about Atwood's violent tendencies following a brief recess before jurors were brought into the courtroom to hear her speak about seeing the baby two days before he died. The woman was questioned by prosecutors and the defense prior to the jury re-entering the courtroom so Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson Jr. could determine whether it was appropriate for her to testify on a domestic incident between Zachary and his mother that happened "possibly a year" prior.
The heavy rains outside could be heard pattering on the roof of the Justice Building from within the quiet courtroom on the fourth floor as Moulton spoke of an incident where Archer tried to call into work because her son had punched her in the face and busted her nose open. Because of the amount of time between the incident between Zachary and his mother compared to the baby being found dead was so long, Clawson ruled not to allow the testimony before jurors involving domestic violence in the Atwood home.
Kim Glover, a former Guy volunteer firefighter, was one of the first on scene.
As she rushed into the Atwood residence, she found Archer attempting chest compressions on the baby. She soon learned Archer discovered the baby while Sunnie and Zachary were in separate rooms of the apartment.
Jason Perry, a local paramedic who arrived on scene shortly after Glover, said it quickly became apparent that paramedics would not be able to revive the infant. He said after pulling up on scene, his partner jumped out of the ambulance and ran into the Alexis Lane apartment. Before he could get out of the vehicle, Perry said he was still gathering supplies as his partner ran back with the unresponsive infant in his arms.
Glover said the scene was "chaotic."
She described Zachary as agitated and Sunnie was "hysterical."
Defense attorney Marvin "Chip" Leibovich questioned Glover about whether she believed the Atwoods were under the influence of methamphetamine since she previously reported "both parents were as high as they could be."
When asked Monday if she thought the couple was high on meth, she said: "I know for sure he was" and that it "was a very good possibility" that Sunnie was too.
Hout also talked in his opening statements about the couple's methamphetamine usage. When describing the case, he summed the matter up as "a helpless infant" who died from Zachary's "methamphetamine-fueled rage."
Sunnie, he said, hasn't used meth since her baby was found dead.
According to the testimony from one of the Atwoods' neighbors, 20-year-old Alex Jenkins, he saw Zachary use methamphetamine in the days leading up to Michell's death.
"At first, it wasn't that bad, [but he] started getting really angry and if something got broke, he got super mad about it," Jenkins, who was 17 years old at the time, said. Also during that time, Jenkins admitted Zachary would smoke meth with him.
Deputy Coroner Michael Mahan, who worked on the case with the late Coroner Pat Moore, said he noticed something was off when he and Moore conducted a reenactment of the baby's death at the Atwood residence.
The reenactment was conducted the same day Mitchell died, and those who last touched the baby and also who discovered the baby were asked to participate in the reenactment.
During this phase of the investigation, Zachary, who was the last one to see the baby alive, was alone with Mahan and Moore as he placed a babydoll and other items as they would have been the last time he laid eyes on the 3-month-old. Archer, who discovered the unresponsive infant, was called in next.
Through this exercise, Mahan said the coroners immediately noticed different accounts of how the baby was lying in the portable crib as well as what items were kept in the crib.
Those investigating the case described Zachary as an angry man, while Sunnie seemed distraught and saddened about her baby's death.
Brian Porter, who was one of the paramedics, said Zachary was "calm, cool and collected," which stood out to him through his years of work from how other parents reacted to an infant-involved death, or any family-related death.
Bobby Lockard, who was Guy police chief at the time, said he had to call in backup while trying to question the couple about the incident because Zachary was angry and continued "hollering, screaming and cussing" inside the city hall where his office was located.
After the jury was dismissed from the courtroom, Karen Farst was called to testify about her knowledge of the link between animal abuse cases and child abuse cases.
The purpose of the cleared courtroom was so Judge Clawson could determine whether her testimony on the proposed link was necessary and permissible during the guilt phase of the Atwood Trial.
Hout argued that Zachary allegedly had killed two puppies, a dog and his mother's cat "for no reason" shortly before baby Mitchell was killed. Farst testified there is a link that shows a pattern that those who abuse animals have a tendency to abuse children also.
Defense attorney Lynn Plemmons argued against permitting Farst's testimony before a jury, stating it would create an "unfair bias" among jurors.
Leibovich and Plemmons sat next to Zachary, who at this point was placed back in handcuffs that included a belly chain on the left side of the courtroom as Hout and deputy prosecutor Colin Wall sat on the right side of the courtroom for about an hour as Clawson made his decision regarding the proposed testimony.
Judge Clawson re-entered the courtroom at 5:50 p.m. By this time, the infant's family that sat behind the prosecution's desk, had left to get rest before the trial resumed.
"Counsel, I will have to say that in my 40 years of practicing law and 22 years on the bench, I have never been faced with this type of evidence," he said.
The matter at hand was a request by prosecutors to allow the expert testimony to prove Zachary did not act accidentally, and that he had a history of violence. Clawson ultimately ruled in the defense's favor and said the testimony on this matter could not be used during the guilt phase of the Atwood Trial.
Testimony in the capital murder case is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Courtroom 3D of the Justice Building on South German Lane in Conway.