The death trial against the older of two Pine Bluff residents accused of kidnapping and murdering a Wooster woman in July 2018 will continue as scheduled in September, despite the defense team’s request to delay the trial.
Tacori Mackrell, 20, and his 18-year-old cousin Robert Smith III, are each charged with capital murder, kidnapping, robbery and theft of property following 72-year-old Elvia Fragstein’s disappearance and death. Smith, who was 16 years old at the time, is charged as adult but cannot face the death penalty due to his age at the time of the alleged offense.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Mackrell.
The Pine Bluff man was previously scheduled to stand trial April 20 through May 15, but restrictions imposed by the Arkansas Supreme Court amid the coronavirus pandemic forced officials to reschedule the month-long trial. The trial was rescheduled to begin Sept. 21 in compliance with the supreme court’s per curium order.
As the trial start date nears, attorneys representing the 20-year-old capital murder suspect requested another continuance.
“Although the defense is endeavoring as vigorously as possible to prepare for trial, the COVID-19 closures have affected the defense’s ability to find certain witnesses, serve them with subpoenas and fully prepare for trial,” the defense’s request for a continuance reads in part. “As an example, the defense’s mitigation specialists, assigned to the defense by the Public Defender Commission, were specifically forbidden by the Commission’s enforcement of the governor’s no-travel order from any travel [whatsoever] for three months.”
The defense team – attorneys William “Bill” James Jr. and Jeffrey Rosenzweig – also expressed their concerns regarding a trial venue.
Given the number of people called to court, as well as having space for 12 jurors and a number of alternates, the trial will likely be held in the Conway Expo & Event Center.
The defense team said it was “unclear” if this venue would be suitable for a trial space and objecting to distancing itself 6 feet from the defendant.
Twentieth Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Carol Crews argued against the defense’s request, adding that the defense team had eight months to prepare and summon witnesses from the original August 2019 trial date to the date that was canceled in April.
“The state’s position is that a re-setting is premature,” Crews wrote in her response to the defense team’s request. “ There were eight months in between the date the Court granted their continuance to substitute co-counsel until the Governor issued a no travel order. It should be noted that Mr. Rosenzweig entered his appearance on September 3, 2019, almost a year ago. Surely the defense had been preparing for trial durng that time.”
With two months leading up to the trial, Crews said she believes it would be “premature” to reset the trial because the defense team can use the next two months to subpoena its witnesses.
Circuit Judge Troy Braswell ultimately denied the defense team’s request, saying the trial would continue as scheduled on Sept. 21.
Mackrell and his younger cousin are accused of kidnapping Fragstein from the Conway Commons shopping center on July 7, 2018. The Wooster woman’s body was found four days after she was reported missing in a wooded area along Gibb Anderson Road in Jefferson County.
Smith is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 2-6 for his alleged involvement in the 72-year-old woman’s disappearance and death.