An attorney representing Tacori D. Mackrell is asking a circuit judge to bar local prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in the young murder suspect's upcoming trial.
Mackrell is charged alongside his cousin with capital murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and theft of property following the brutal strangulation of the 71-year-old Wooster woman.
In Arkansas, a defendant found guilty of capital murder can receive one of two punishments: life in prison without the possibility of parole or death. However, prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty in all capital cases.
On Wednesday, attorneys representing the Pine Bluff teen filed 45 motions in Faulkner County Circuit Court. Of the many motions filed was a request to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in Mackrell's case.
Defense attorney Bill James said the death penalty violates his client's constitutional rights, adding the punishment "is not a deterrent to future homicides."
Instead, the act induces violence in an "ever-increasingly violent society" and is demeaning toward the value of human life, James said in the recently-filed request to quash the death penalty option in Mackrell's case.
"The death penalty is unjustified as a means for achieving any legitimate governmental end, and is therefore excessive because there is no penal purpose served by execution which is not more effectively or more efficiently served by life imprisonment," the motion reads in part. "The capital murder statute violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments ... in that it provides for life imprisonment without parole as an alternative to the death penalty, which is a less drastic means of accomplishing the legislative goals of both deterring the defendant and others from future homicides."
Attorneys representing the young murder suspect have also requested the jury in Mackrell's case not be qualified for a death trial.
James said he believes prosecutors "will seek to qualify the jury to render the death penalty" during the jury selection process.
In a previous case, prosecutors and defense attorneys spent a week selecting a jury and released individuals who said they would not be able to render a death verdict.
According to his recent request, a death-qualified jury would be unfair.
"A 'death qualified' jury is predisposed to conviction and thereby denies [Mackrell] a fair and impartial finder of fact at the guilt phase of his trial," the motion states.
Should his client be found guilty following his upcoming trial, James is asking that prosecutors be barred from using victim impact evidence. Victim impact statements are often given during the sentencing portion of a trial. During this portion of the trial, prosecutors would also inform the jury of the aggravating factors that qualify the case to be a death trial.
Not only are prosecutors required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a capital murder defendant killed the victim premeditated and deliberately, but they must also prove there was at least one aggravating circumstance or factor that contributed to the alleged crime for the case to qualify as a death penalty case.
Last month, 20th Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews filed the aggravating circumstances that will be used against Mackrell.
Crews submitted a notice of aggravating circumstances on May 22 that alleges the then-18-year-old Pine Bluff teen kidnapped and killed the Faulkner County woman “for pecuniary gain.”
Crews also said prosecutors believe “that the capital murder was committed in an especially cruel or depraved manner.”
Mackrell’s younger cousin, 17-year-old Robert Smith III, is also charged with capital murder for his alleged involvement in Fragstein’s slaying. Smith was 16 years old when he and Mackrell allegedly kidnapped Fragstein from the Conway Commons Shopping Center parking lot in broad daylight on July 7.
Because of his age, Smith cannot face the death sentence, per Arkansas law.
Online records hint gang activity played a role in her death. However, authorities have since declined to comment on the extent the role played.
The Wooster woman was reported missing by her husband, Helmut, who was immediately concerned about his wife’s well being when she did not come home at 5 p.m. July 7 as she said she would.
The missing persons investigation soon turned into a homicide investigation after a body found in a wooded area along Gibb Anderson Road in Jefferson County was identified four days later as the missing Wooster woman. Authorities later found the victim’s vehicle had been set on fire and abandoned in Pine Bluff.
The late Wooster woman's husband has attended every hearing against the two teens charged in her death. Helmut told the Log Cabin Democrat that he will continue showing up for each hearing in an effort to support his soulmate.
"She was kind to everyone ... I have to be there for her," he said.
A motion hearing is currently scheduled for July 19 in Mackrell's case. A nearly-one-month-long jury trial is set to begin on Sept. 30 in Mackrell's case. The Pine Bluff teen's younger cousin is set to appear in Faulkner County Circuit Court later this week as his defense attorneys plea for his case to be moved to juvenile court.
Smith's juvenile transfer hearing will begin Wednesday and is scheduled to end Friday.