Two Faulkner County residents have now been selected to serve on the capital murder case against a Pine Bluff man accused of kidnapping and killing a Wooster woman in July 2018.
As of Tuesday evening, 20th Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews, senior deputy prosecutor John Hout and defense attorneys William “Bill” James Jr. and Jeff Rosenzweig, had selected one man and one woman to serve as jurors in the capital murder case against 20-year-old Tacori D. Mackrell.
Mackrell was 18 years old when he and his younger cousin, Robert L. Smith III, allegedly kidnapped 72-year-old Elvia Fragstein from the Conway Commons shopping center on July 7, 2018. Though he was 16 years old at the time, Smith was charged as an adult alongside Mackrell. The two have been charged with capital murder, a Class Y felony; kidnapping, a Class Y felony; robbery, a Class B felony; and theft of property, a Class C felony; for their alleged involvement in Fragstein’s disappearance and death.
Jury selection began Monday morning in Faulkner County Circuit Court. At the end of the day Monday, attorneys on both sides of the matter had agreed on one juror – a Conway Public Schools employee.
Two panels went before prosecutors and the defense team on Tuesday for voire dire. Jury selection began at 9:30 a.m., and by 6:50 p.m., one of the women was selected to serve in the Fragstein case.
During jury selection, attorneys warned prospective jurors the case would be a tough case to sit on.
“There’s no way it’s not going to be emotional … you’ve got a murder, you’ve got a robbery,” James said of the case. “There will be ugly pictures … I can’t properly prepare you for how bad it’s going to be.”
One of the prospective jurors who was ultimately struck for cause shortly before 6 p.m. said sitting on a death penalty trial was not something he would ever want to do. The Faulkner County resident was adamant he did not feel he was the right person to decide if a defendant’s actions cost him his life.
The defense team asked each of the prospective jurors if they would be willing to give “meaningful consideration” to any and all mitigating circumstances that arise on Mackrell’s behalf during the trial against him. This was important, he said, noting that if the jury were to determine the mitigating circumstances in Mackrell’s case outweighed the aggravating factors listed by prosecutors, his client would not be eligible for the death penalty.
Twentieth Judicial District prosecutors did not waive the death penalty in Mackrell’s case and have informed prospective jurors they plan to introduce aggravating factors that would qualify the case as a death penalty case. While the death penalty is one of two punishments a defendant found guilty of capital murder could face, the death penalty is not an option in all capital cases. In order to qualify as a death penalty case, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt at least one aggravating factor.
“The death penalty is never an automatic option,” Hout said during the capital murder trial against Scotty Ray Gardner. Gardner’s trial was the first death penalty case in Faulkner County in more than 30 years at the time. He was ultimately sentenced to death in August 2018 by a Faulkner County jury and is currently on death row.
Not only are prosecutors required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a capital murder defendant killed the victim premeditated and deliberately, but they must also prove there was at least one aggravating circumstance or factor that contributed to the alleged crime for the case to qualify as a death penalty case. Prosecutors in May 2019 filed two aggravating circumstances they hope to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of 12 Faulkner County residents by the end of Mackrell’s trial. In the prosecution’s notice of aggravating circumstances filed on May 22, 2019, Crews accused Mackrell of killing Fragstein for “pecuniary gain” and also said that “the capital murder was committed in an especially cruel or depraved manner.”
Jury selection in the Fragstein case will resume Wednesday morning in Faulkner County Circuit Court. Voire dire (jury selection) is expected to take up to two weeks to complete, and the trial is scheduled to run through Oct. 16.