Jurors wiped tears from their eyes as Helmut Fragstein’s voice cracked with heartbreak when describing the love he and his wife, Elvia, shared before she was murdered.
Luz Newman, a close friend of Elvia’s, said the 72-year-old Wooster woman was unlike anyone else she’d ever met.
Newman and Elvia met while taking language classes to learn English in Wisconsin in 1997. The two quickly bonded and became very close friends, interpreter Jason Daniel said on Friday on Newman’s behalf. Daniel, an Administrative Office of the Courts employee, translated testimony for Newman as well as one of Elvia’s children and a grandchild during the first day of the sentencing phase of Tacori D. Mackrell’s capital murder case.
The Pine Bluff man was found guilty of capital murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and theft of property Thursday afternoon. A Faulkner County jury deliberated for nearly two hours Thursday before finding Mackrell guilty as charged on all counts.
Newman was the second victim-impact witness called to the stand by 20th Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews and senior deputy prosecutor John Hout on Friday.
“She was like a mother to me. [It] felt as if a leg or an arm was taken from me [when she died]. She was my support. She was everything to me. I trusted her so much,” Newman said of losing Elvia. “I’ve lost an angel. That’s what she was. I give thanks to God because this angel came through my life.”
Helmut was overcome with sadness and wept on the stand while testifying how the death of his wife of nearly 20 years had affected him. The two would have celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary Thursday, Oct. 8.
“I am lost,” he said.
Helmut met Elvia by chance while on vacation in Spain. The German engineer said his bus was running late when he spotted Elvia. He decided to walk over and talk to the Columbian woman, and the two ended up spending the entire week together.
From there, Helmut said he and Elvia wrote letters back and forth for about a year before she moved to the United States with him.
The day Elvia obtained her American citizenship, she was “the happiest American,” he said.
The two decided to make the United States their home and ultimately retired in Wooster in 2002.
“This was the safest country in the world,” Helmut said.
Moving to America meant leaving behind the violence the two endured during their childhood.
Helmut was born in 1938 and said he remembers fleeing to West Germany following WWII. Elvia’s family, who lived on a farm in rural Columbia, also faced brutal violence when she was a child.
Claudia Fragstein, who is Helmut’s daughter, said she always considered Elvia to be a mother. The blended family called Elvia their abuela through the years, Claudia said.
Visiting her father’s home in Wooster is not the same anymore, Claudia said, adding that it feels a piece of her heart “has been ripped out.”
Claudia, who lives in Illinois, said she could never forget the day she found out Elvia went missing. It was a “nightmare” she never woke up from.
Elvia was an important member of the family and was always thinking of her children and grandchildren, Claudia said.
Helmut and his wife had the opportunity to give input on the features included in their Wooster home. Once the home was built, Elvia decorated the interior.
“A house is a structure. A woman makes it a home,” Helmut said through tears. At one point, he pointed out the intricacy of the bows on a shelf in a photo taken at the Fragstein’s Wooster home on Christmas. Elvia loved to decorate, and she loved to shop, he said.
Since Elvia was murdered, Helmut said he has felt empty and lonely.
His children and other family members said Friday that his smile has disappeared.
Helmut’s once bubbly personality has faded into a depression, his daughter said.
“I rarely see him smile anymore,” Claudia said.
Each time prosecutors showed a picture of Helmut’s wife to the jury, the 82-year-old widower gasped and started to cry.
Two family members traveled to Conway from Columbia to testify as victim-impact witnesses in the capital murder case against Mackrell.
Before the court adjourned on the first day of the sentencing phase, the defense team – attorneys Jeff Rosenzweig and William “Bill” James Jr. – called five character witnesses on Mackrell’s behalf.
The first witness, Jefferson Regional Medical Center Health Information Director Jacob Blalock, confirmed Mackrell was born with cocaine in his system.
A family friend, former basketball coach and two former Division of Youth Services employees talked about Mackrell’s character and lack of supervision as a child.
Anthony Johnson, a former DYS employee, said he bonded with and mentored Mackrell, even after Mackrell was released from the rehabilitative juvenile program.
“I could tell he needed love and support,” Johnson said.
Because the Justice Building is closed Monday for Columbus Day, the sentencing phase of the death-penalty trial will resume Tuesday morning.