Following a dispute among attorneys representing the older of two teens accused in the Fragstein case, another attorney soon will be appointed to assist in the matter and a trial scheduled to begin later this year has been postponed.
Bill James, who was appointed by the Arkansas Public Defender Commission last year to represent Tacori D. Mackrell, will remain as the defendant’s lead counsel.
Now that Bobby R. Digby II has left the James Law Firm, the lead attorney filed motions to not only continue an upcoming three-day hearing, but to also remove Digby from the case and reschedule a month-long death trial that was set to begin Sept. 30 in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
Mackrell, 19, is charged with capital murder, kidnapping, robbery and theft of property following the brutal July 2018 strangulation death of 72-year-old Elvia Fragstein. Mackrell was 18 years old when he and his younger cousin allegedly abducted the Wooster woman from the Conway Commons shopping center and later dumped her body off a rural, Jefferson County road. Robert L. Smith III, now 17, was 16 years old at the time and has been charged as an adult.
James and Digby met alongside with 20th Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews and Hugh Finkelstein, a senior deputy prosecutor who was filling in for John Hout, on Thursday morning to address the motions filed in circuit court earlier this week.
The hearing began around 10 a.m. and was held in the judge’s chambers. Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr. also called Gregg Parrish, who is the Arkansas Public Defender Commission’s executive director, to the courthouse for Thursday’s hearing.
Following the closed-doors hearing, attorneys and the defendant reconvened in Courtroom 3A of the Justice Building at 11 a.m.
Elvia’s husband, Helmut, was accompanied by close friends as he anxiously awaited to learn if the case would be delayed or continue as scheduled.
At some point during the closed-door hearing, Braswell said Digby opted to remove himself from the case, despite having argued in a motion filed Monday that he felt comfortable remaining on the case and saw “no rational reason” for the case to be rescheduled.
James will remain as the lead defense attorney on the case.
Because a second-chair attorney has not yet been appointed to the case, Braswell said the upcoming motion hearing will be continued and the jury trial will have to be rescheduled to “ensure Mr. Mackrell’s right to counsel.”
While the Sept. 3-5 motion hearing will be reset, Braswell ordered both parties to reconvene in circuit court Sept. 3 to begin rescheduling hearings and trial dates.
“Counselors, bring your calendars because we’re going to be setting [this] for trial,” he said of the Sept. 3 hearing.
Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at email@example.com.