The final witness set to testify in murder suspect Robert Smith III’s juvenile transfer hearing will take to the stand at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Smith was 16 years old when he and his older cousin, Tacori D. Mackrell, allegedly abducted and killed a Wooster woman. The now-17-year-old Pine Bluff teen is charged as an adult with capital murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and theft of property following the brutal 2018 strangulation death of 71-year-old Elvia Fragstein.
The young murder suspect’s attorney, Garfield W. Bloodman, requested in April that Smith’s case be moved to juvenile court. A transfer hearing was held July 12 and 13 before Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr. in Faulkner County Circuit Court. However, because the medical examiner was not available until July 3, the final day of the three-day hearing was ultimately postponed. Testimony will now resume at 9 a.m.
Once all witnesses have testified in the matter, Braswell must consider nine factors when determining whether to keep the teen’s case in circuit court or move it to the juvenile division.
Per state law, following the transfer request and testimony brought before the court, Braswell must consider the seriousness of the alleged offense “and whether the protection of society requires prosecution in the criminal division of circuit court.”
Braswell will also have to determine if Smith acted in “an aggressive, violent, premeditated, or willful manner” and if the teen was culpable and took part in the planning of the crime.
Arkansas law also mandates that a judge shall look at whether the alleged crime brought before the court was against a person or property, because there is “greater weight being given to offenses against persons, especially if personal injury resulted.”
Following the medical examiner’s testimony about the condition Fragstein’s body was found in, Braswell will also have to consider Smith’s previous history, “including whether [Smith] had been adjudicated [as] a juvenile offender and, if so, whether the offenses were against persons or property, and any other previous history of antisocial behavior or patterns of physical violence.”
During the portion of Smith’s transfer hearing that was held last month, the Pine Bluff teen’s mother testified on his behalf.
Latasha Smith was the first to testify in her son’s hearing.
Sitting before court officials at the front of Courtroom 3A in the Justice Building on July 12, Latasha said her son “has never been in any sort of [trouble].”
However, deputy prosecutor John Hout questioned the Pine Bluff woman about her son’s previous FINS (Family In Need of Services) cases and also asked about why Robert did not attend school regularly.
Sixth Judicial District Assistant Chief Juvenile Officer Eric Walden testified that FINS cases were opened against Robert because he missed too much school and also because he hit one of his teachers.
Other factors to be considered when determining whether to transfer the case include Smith’s level of maturity, the possibility of rehabilitating the Pine Bluff teen by his 21st birthday via services and other programs, whether he acted alone or alongside a co-defendant as well as any reports “relating to the juvenile’s mental, physical, educational, and social history.”
Judge Braswell can also consider any other factors he feels are relevant to the case, according to juvenile transfer laws.
Elvia Fragstein was reported missing by her husband, Helmut, on July 7, 2018. Helmut became concerned immediately that day after his wife did not return at 5 p.m. as she said she would.
She was ultimately reported missing at midnight to the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office after Helmut attempted to first file a report with the Conway Police Department and unsuccessfully reached out to the couple's close friends for clues on where she could be.
The missing persons investigation soon turned into a homicide investigation after a body found in a wooded area along Gibb Anderson Road in rural Jefferson County was identified four days later as the missing Wooster woman.
FCSO Investigator Andy Cook, with help from Conway and Jefferson County authorities, pinpointed Smith and Mackrell as the key suspects in the case after reviewing Elvia’s last debit card transactions alongside security footage captured by several stores within the Conway Commons shopping center.
Elvia last shopped at TJ Maxx & HomeGoods before she disappeared.
Rachel Ganley, a criminalist with the Arkansas State Crime Lab, previously testified that she found traces of Elvia’s blood on the shoes Robert wore the day he allegedly helped kidnap and kill Elvia.
Bloodman maintains his client is innocent.
Wednesday’s transfer hearing is expected to run three hours.