Six witnesses testified in a suppression hearing Friday regarding the capital murder case against Pine Bluff teen Tacori D. Mackrell.
Mackrell is charged alongside his younger cousin with capital murder, kidnapping, robbery and theft of property following the July 2018 brutal strangulation death of 72-year-old Elvia Fragstein.
The 19-year-old faces the death penalty and is scheduled to stand trial later this year.
A lengthy suppression hearing was held before Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr. in Faulkner County Circuit Court after defense attorney Bill James disputed prosecutors’ ability to admit statements Mackrell made to authorities while detained on unrelated charges at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in two separate interviews.
Audio recordings of both statements made respectively on July 15, 2018, and July 16, 2018, were played before the courtroom Friday morning and afternoon.
Lt. John Bean of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was first to take to the stand.
Bean and Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chad Wooley were the two investigators who questioned Mackrell on July 15, 2018. During the initial interview, Bean said it was clear the then-18-year-old lied and contradicted himself several times.
Mackrell was detained in the W.C. “Dub” Bassell Detention Center when the two questioned him about the Fragstein investigation because he had been picked up in an unrelated residential burglary case. The two investigators did not mention during the initial investigation that they were investigating a homicide case, but instead began asking Mackrell about the Wooster woman’s vehicle.
The interview helped shed light on Mackrell’s background. Both of the Pine Bluff teen’s parents are dead, and he comes from a large family. On his father’s side alone, Mackrell has 18 siblings.
Mackrell had previously been ordered to participate in the Civilian Student Training Program (C-STEP), which is a behavioral management program, but was ultimately kicked out and ordered to serve two and a half years in the Division of Youth Services. Following his release from DYS, Mackrell told authorities he obtained his GED.
Regarding the day Elvia Fragstein was abducted from the Conway Commons shopping center, the Pine Bluff teen initially denied being in Conway on the day in question.
“I haven’t been to Conway,” Mackrell could be heard saying over the courtroom speaker during the July 15, 2018, interview. Mackrell also told Bean and Wooley that he did not typically “hang out” with his younger cousin, Robert Smith III.
During the course of the interview, the investigators showed Mackrell a photo taken from video surveillance at the Conway Commons shopping center that placed the two cousins in Conway the day Elvia went missing. Elvia’s husband, Helmut, had reported her missing at midnight July 8, 2018. She was last seen alive on video at the Conway shopping center shortly before 4 p.m. July 7, according to previous testimony in Smith’s juvenile transfer hearing.
Mackrell claimed the family used two vehicles so that Robert’s mother, Latasha, could play bingo at the Bingo Hall in Conway. According to his first recorded statement, he and Robert drove to Conway in a white four-door Ford sedan. Smith’s mother drove a blue PT Cruiser, he said.
However, when confronted with photos taken from video surveillance of the two teens driving around the shopping center in Latasha’s PT Cruiser, Mackrell admitted the two were moving around the parking lot “to smoke a blunt.”
In his second recorded interview, which was given at his request, Mackrell detailed Elvia’s final moments. He last remembered her breathing and “moaning” as the two teens drove through Little Rock in the Wooster woman’s silver Honda CR-V.
Mackrell claimed “a Caucasian” man with a .357 revolver forced him to kidnap Elvia.
Brian Williams, a Conway Police Department detective, had recorded a portion of the second interview on his cell phone. There was not another means available at the time Mackrell, who was standing in a holding cell at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office awaiting transport to Faulkner County on July 16, 2018, requested to speak with Wooley and make a second statement, which is why Williams said he began recording the conversation on his phone.
Mackrell said he felt authorities were trying to “force” him to take blame for the incident, but later admitted he and Smith kidnapped Elvia.
Before he admitted to kidnapping her, Mackrell began to cry.
As he recalled the abduction, he said Robert tied Elvia’s arms with a belt and that he tied up her legs, per the “Caucasian man’s” orders. Mackrell denied hurting Elvia and claimed the other man punched her.
Records currently show there is no evidence to support another individual was involved with Elvia’s abduction.
As he opened up to investigators, Mackrell cried out that he didn’t want to be locked up too long.
“I don’t want anyone else to take my place,” he said of the possibility that someone else would raise his daughter for him. “I can do a couple years, but I can’t do to long or someone else will raise my daughter.”
As the recording played before the court, Helmut began to weep at the front of the courtroom as he listened to Mackrell detail the sounds Elvia made in her final moments.
Others who testified Friday included JCSO Cpt. Gerald “Andy” Hoots, JCSO detective Johnathon Powell and FCSO investigator Andy Cook.
A ruling regarding the request to suppress Mackrell’s statements was not made Friday. Prosecutors and the defense counsel received a video recording of Mackrell’s statements and will review the evidence prior to a three-day hearing that will be scheduled next week. The upcoming hearing will further address the suppression request as well as the defense counsel’s request to have Mackrell’s case moved to another jurisdiction.
The motion for a change of venue was formally filed Tuesday afternoon. The motion states the Log Cabin Democrat has published “numerous articles regarding the case” and that comments posted to stories shared on the LCD’s social media outlets “indicate that [Mackrell] could not receive a fair trial.”
While a hearing date has not yet been scheduled, the death trial is set to begin Sept. 30 and is expected to run through Oct. 25.