The capital murder case against Tacori D. Mackrell will begin Monday morning as scheduled, despite the defense team’s request to delay the trial over coronavirus exposure concerns.
Willian “Bill” James Jr. and Jeff Rosenzweig, the attorneys representing the Pine Bluff murder suspect, filed a motion Sunday afternoon asking that a circuit judge consider rescheduling a jury trial expected to run one month long because Faulkner County could be considered a COVID-19 “hotspot,” given the number of colleges in Conway.
Because the pandemic “remains severe … within Arkansas and in particular Faulkner County has not affirmatively dwindled,” the defense team said it hoped the trial could be postponed.
Attorneys representing Mackrell also argued against having the trial because a vaccine is currently unavailable and a “second wave” of the virus was predicted by medical experts to hit “as the weather cools,” according to the defense team’s motion.
The defense team also said it had concerns that jurors would be quarantined after the trial began.
“It seems highly unlikely that a month-long trial can be conducted without someone contracting Covid and thus forcing all exposed to him or her into a two week quarantine, with the inevitable mistrial,” the defense team’s motion for continuance reads in part. “This would seriously endanger the health of the participants and public health in general, without reaching the finality which is a goal of the judicial system.”
With Mackrell currently detained in the county jail, which the defense described as a “breeding grounds for Covid spread,” defense attorneys said the murder suspect could potentially spread the virus to them.
“Counsel should not be required to risk their health in order to vindicate Mackrell’s constitutional rights,” the motion further states.
The capital murder trial against Mackrell was scheduled to begin earlier this year. However, the month-long jury trial was reset in late-March to instead begin Sept. 21 due to the pandemic.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has since given courts across the state the OK to resume hearings and trials and has also issued a safety guide for court officials to consider regarding in-person hearings and jury trials.
The guidelines require everyone to wear a face covering and maintain a social distance of at least 6-feet. Courts must also screen everyone’s temperature and conduct health questionnaires each day, among other health and safety procedures put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The defense team’s request to further delay Mackrell’s trial was ultimately denied in a hearing before Circuit Judge Troy Braswell on Wednesday.
The court has held other jury trials since the Arkansas Supreme Court gave officials the OK to resume trials, and has new seating arrangements for jurors during the trial.
The 20-year-old capital murder suspect was also charged with kidnapping, robbery and theft of property for his alleged involvement in the disappearance and death of Elvia Fragstein.
The 71-year-old Wooster woman was reported missing by her husband, Helmut, who was immediately concerned about his wife’s wellbeing when she did not return home by 5 p.m. July 7, 2018, as she said she would.
The missing persons investigation soon turned into a homicide investigation after a body found in a wooded area along Gibb Anderson Road in Jefferson County was identified four days later as the missing Wooster woman. Authorities later found the victim’s vehicle had been set on fire and abandoned in Pine Bluff.
Mackrell was 18 years old when he and his younger cousin, Robert L. Smith III, allegedly kidnapped Elvia in broad daylight outside the Conway Commons shopping center. Smith, who was 16 years old at the time, was charged as an adult with capital murder, kidnapping, robbery and theft of property for his alleged involvement in the Wooster woman’s strangulation death.
Mackrell faces the death penalty. Jury selection in his case will begin Monday morning in Faulkner County Circuit Court. The trial is expected to run through Oct. 16.