The case against a Pine Bluff teen accused of abducting and killing a Wooster woman in July 2018 will remain in adult court, despite pleas from the now-17-year-old’s defense attorney to move the case to the juvenile division.
Robert Smith III was 16 years old when he and his older cousin allegedly kidnapped 72-year-old Elvia Fragstein. The Wooster woman’s husband, Helmut, reported her missing at midnight July 8, and her body was later found face down off rural, Jefferson County road.
“In between her abduction and being found, she suffered a traumatic and prolonged assault with significant violence,” Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr. wrote in his Thursday order that ultimately denied the defense’s request to move the case to juvenile court. “Her body was beaten, broken and suffocated. Eventually, her body was dumped like a piece of trash. These crimes were random and horrific. These charges do not belong in Juvenile Court. The charges belong int he Criminal Division of the Circuit Court.”
Smith and his cousin, Tacori D. Mackrell, are both charged with one count each of capital murder, kidnapping, robbery and theft of property following Elvia’s disappearance and apparent strangulation death.
A transfer hearing was held in Smith’s case June 12-13 and July 3. After listening to the testimony given in court, Braswell continued to review the evidence and testimony given during the hearing over the past two weeks prior to making his ruling.
In his 10-page ruling, Braswell addresses the nine factors that must be considered when determining whether a juvenile charged as an adult in a criminal case should be transferred to juvenile court. While two of the factors, when viewed alone, could support a transfer, the overall weight of all nine factors “requires” the case remain in the criminal division, Braswell wrote in his ruling.
The first of the nine factors to be considered references the seriousness the offense poses on the public’s safety.
Braswell references the need to keep the case in adult court due to the charges against Smith including capital murder, which “is the most serious charge” within the Arkansas Criminal Code.
It was also important to note that “the allegations in this case suggest that the crime was random and violent in nature,” Braswell wrote.
During the transfer hearing, 20th Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews said the fact that Elvia was abducted in the middle of the day on a Saturday showed the seriousness behind the case. Crews also said she found it alarming the two teens did not know Elvia prior to the alleged attack.
According to his ruling, Braswell agreed.
The attack was “aggressive, violent and [committed with a] willful manner,” the order filed Thursday afternoon states.
Stephen Erickson, who is deputy chief medical examiner at the Arkansas State Crime Lab, testified July 3 that Elvia’s death was “purposeful [and] forceful.”
The medical examiner’s testimony was enough to warrant keeping the case in adult court by itself, according to Judge Braswell’s ruling. However, it was important to detail “just how violent this attack was against this elderly woman” and also review all other factors in the matter.
According to Erickson’s testimony, Elvia was “crushed.” The 72-year-old woman suffered a violent, prolonged assault and died of strangulation as well as blunt force trauma to her head and cervical spine.
It was unclear what order the injuries occurred, Erickson said.
The injury to Elvia’s neck “would be one of the most uncomfortable feelings you can have. A panic inducing injury.”
Garfield W. Bloodman, who represents Smith, had argued that the fact his client had obtained a GED since his arrest showed he had the initiative and willingness to do better and be rehabilitated. Crews said she felt this move helped show Smith was able to think on a mature level and that the teen should be held accountable by being tried as an adult.
While young Smith had never been adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court, Braswell took note of evidence submitted by Crews and senior deputy prosecutor John Hout that the Pine Bluff teen was known to associate with a gang that “celebrate[s] a lifestyle of murder and robbery.”
The young boy had Family In Need of Services (FINS) cases because he was frequently truant from school. This issue alone, could argue a need for a juvenile transfer. However, the fact that Smith skipped school after his parents dropped him off each day and showed back up when they arrived to pick him up showed he “was able to execute a sophisticated plan to fool his parents regarding his school attendance.”
Smith’s mother testified her son was “respectful” and said he did not have an adult’s mindset. But the teen’s ability to hide from his parents that he was skipping school “shows that he was able to control his actions,” Braswell said.
Smith worked alongside his grandfather after school to work on motors and fix vehicles’ transmissions.
“Such work is not mere common knowledge and requires a specific skill set and the ability to learn,” Braswell’s order reads in part. “This is consistent with Mr. Bradley Bateman’s testimony that defendant Smith was intelligent and on of the top students when he applied himself in school.”
Sixth Judicial District Assistant Chief Juvenile Officer Eric Walden testified during the transfer hearing that while creating a gang profile on murder gang, he disproved a music video — “23” — posted online by the “Murder Gang.” Smith was seen dancing and “spending time with gang members” in the video.
Braswell said this type of gang association was alarming. While young Smith did not hold any of the firearms or firearm props in the video, he at one point “makes his fingers in a guns tape and moves his hands and fingers in such a manner to simulate the firing of a handgun.”
The order also references some of the song lyrics that discuss “the whole click want a body, or two or three.”
Other lyrics highlighted in Braswell’s ruling include: “Leave your block real messy but the bullets clean;” “Bring the yellow tape and get you hold off;” “‘223 hit your face and knock it off;” “the 23 will split you like spades;” “on the ground, there go your brains.”
“The Court clearly understands that lyrics of songs/raps don’t always equate to truth or real life. However, in this case, Mr. Walden’s testimony is extremely knowledgeable and credible. His testimony confirms Murder Gang is a real gang that the video shows several members that are now dead or locked up facing adult criminal charges,” the order reads.
The defense’s transfer request was ultimately denied formally Thursday afternoon.
Smith’s cousin is scheduled to appear in circuit court Friday morning. The 19-year-old has requested his case be moved to a different court.