A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for nearly two hours before finding Tacori D. Mackrell guilty as charged on all counts Thursday afternoon.
The 12 Faulkner County residents will ultimately decide Mackrell’s fate next week after listening to victim impact witnesses that 20th Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews and senior deputy prosecutor John Hout plan to call and character witnesses the defense team – attorneys Jeff Rosenzweig and William “Bill” James Jr. – likely will call in the case against the 20-year-old Pine Bluff man.
Prosecutors will call their first victim impact witness to the stand at 9 a.m. Friday, beginning the sentencing phase of the death-penalty case.
After being found guilty of capital murder – as well as kidnapping, aggravated robbery and theft of property – Mackrell faces either life in prison or the death penalty. The capital murder case is eligible for a death-penalty sentence because prosecutors have filed aggravating factors against Mackrell – that the murder was committed for pecuniary gain; that Elvia Fragstein’s murder was committed in an especially cruel manner and that she had a temporary disability. The state must prove at least one aggravating circumstance associated with the case for it to be a death penalty case.
Prosecutors have described the events leading up to Fragstein’s death as “a hunt.”
“This wasn’t boys just being boys,” Hout said during closing statements. “This was them [Mackrell and his younger cousin Robert L. Smith III] laying out a well-executed plan.”
It was disturbing that following the murder, Tacori went home to relax, Hout said.
“What did Tacori say he was doing while Mr. Fragstein was looking for his wife – he was chilling,” the senior deputy prosecutor said moments before James addressed the jury.
Hout also said he found it compelling that Mackrell did not apologize for killing Fragstein and dumping her body on July 7, 2018, when he testified Wednesday.
“Sometimes, the words that aren’t said are the loudest,” Hout said, noting the Pine Bluff man never told jurors how Fragstein’s blood got on his cousin’s shoes or what he did to crack the 72-year-old Wooster woman’s second cervical vertebrae. “Here comes the most chilling thing … he never said he was sorry.”
James said he instructed his client not to say he was sorry when he took to the stand Wednesday, adding that it was not appropriate at that point in the trial.
Because the now-20-year-old Pine Bluff man was 18 years old when he kidnapped Fragstein in broad daylight at the Conway Commons shopping center, the defense attorney said he did not believe Mackrell’s mental state was fully developed.
Though Mackrell testified he acted on impulse and was high on PCP the day he killed Fragstein, Crews said that did not justify the crime. It was also not a valid defense, she said.
Elvia died a violent death. The 72-year-old woman suffered eight broken ribs, a crushed throat, a cracked cervical vertebrae and blunt force trauma, according to Arkansas State Crime Lab Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Erickson’s testimony earlier this week.
The medical examiner was forced to use Fragstein’s bones “to tell her story” because the woman’s body was significantly decomposed by the time he received it.
Crews reminded jurors during closing statements that the medical examiner faced a challenging task conducting Fragstein’s autopsy because her body had been left in the Arkansas heat for several days in July 2018. There was a significant amount of insect activity on Fragstein’s body and other animals had gnawed away her skin and other tissues before her remains were spotted in a ditch off Gibb Anderson Road in rural Jefferson County by a farmer driving by on a tractor.
Mackrell’s age did not make his actions any less severe nor would it have made Fragstein’s injuries any less painful, Crews said.
“Her six ribs on the right side were no less broken because he was 18,” she said. “The two on the other side didn’t hurt any less because he was 18.”
The evidence and security footage “shows it’s a hunt,” Crews said.
The jury left the courtroom at 1:37 p.m. to begin deliberations and had reached a verdict by 3:27 p.m.
Helmut Fragstein sighed heavily when he heard his wife’s killer was convicted on all counts.
The 82-year-old Wooster resident has attended nearly every hearing against Mackrell and his cousin since they were charged in Elvia’s murder. However, because he testified as a witness in the capital murder case and will be called as a victim-impact witness, he was not allowed to be in the courtroom during other witnesses’ testimony or for closing arguments.