A jury of six men and six women deliberated for about 1 hour and twenty minutes Thursday evening before finding Robert L. Smith III guilty as charged.
Smith admitted he was affiliated with a group known as Murder Gang while on the stand Thursday.
Smith opted to testify on his own behalf in the capital murder trial against him. Smith was the sole witness defense attorney Garfield W. Bloodman called to the stand before resting on Thursday.
The 18-year-old Pine Bluff man was 16 years old when he was charged with capital murder, kidnapping, robbery and theft of property for his involvement in Elvia Fragstein’s disappearance and death. The 72-year-old Wooster woman was last seen alive leaving TJ Maxx & HomeGoods in the Conway Commons shopping center on July 7, 2018. Smith’s older cousin, 20-year-old Tacori D. Mackrell was found guilty as charged by a Faulkner County jury last month and ultimately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Smith, wearing a light yellow button-up shirt and black slacks, took the stand Thursday morning in Courtroom 4 at the Justice Building in Conway.
The young murder suspect said his older cousin was responsible for the injuries Fragstein suffered.
According to Smith’s testimony, he and Mackrell went to the Conway Commons shopping center while his mother played Bingo nearby. While driving through the parking lot the two smoked marijuana. However, the younger murder suspect said that Mackrell was also smoking PCP.
At one point, Mackrell got out of the vehicle while they were smoking and was gone for several minutes, Smith said. The first time, Mackrell only stepped out of the vehicle for a moment. The second time Mackrell left the vehicle, he was gone for “two or three minutes.”
Smith said that his cousin was acting “aggressive” when he returned and that Mackrell ordered him “to get in the driver’s seat” and drive them to Pine Bluff in a silver vehicle he’d acquired.
Mackrell’s demeanor had changed, Smith said, adding that he was fearful of his older cousin at this point.
Smith testified that he could tell Mackrell’s clothes were bloodied and that it appeared his cousin was “prowling over something” in the back seat of the silver Honda CR-V.
Bloodman said he did not agree with the timeline pieced together by prosecutors, saying it was unlikely the surveillance footage from each business lined up accordingly.
2:37 p.m. — The blue PT Cruiser that Robert was driving is spotted in the Target parking lot.
2:51 p.m. – The blue PT Cruiser leaves the Target parking lot.
2:53 p.m. – Robert L. Smith III and Tacori D. Mackrell are seen on surveillance footage walking by The Children’s Place in the Conway Commons shopping center.
3:04 p.m. – Smith and Mackrell get back in the PT Cruiser.
3:23 p.m. – Someone is seen stepping out of the PT Cruiser before getting back in.
3:42 p.m. – Smith and Mackrell are spotted walking passed the TJ Maxx & HomeGoods entrance.
3:43 p.m. – Elvia Fragstein walks out of TJ Maxx.
3:47 p.m. – Fragstein’s silver 2013 Honda CR-V drives through Target parking lot.
3:48 p.m. – Fragstein’s vehicle is spotted on surveillance driving erratically and pulling up behind Target.
5 p.m. – An Arkansas State Police trooper runs the tags of Fragstein’s vehicle as it passes mile marker 27 on Interstate 530 headed toward Pine Bluff.
Twentieth Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews also questioned Smith about his involvement in Fragstein’s disappearance and death, saying she did not believe he was only asked to drive the Honda CR-V from Conway to Pine Bluff.
Mackrell had testified last month that Smith was present for the attack. Smith’s older cousin previously testified the two used their belts to bind Fragstein in the back of her own vehicle.
During closing statements, Crews said she believed the weapon Smith used to help kill Fragstein were his shoes as she recalled Rachel Ganley’s testimony. Ganley, a criminalist with the Arkansas State Crime Lab, testified in Smith’s case that she found “penny-sized” drops of blood on Smith’s shoes.
Arkansas State Crime Lab Forensic DNA Analyst Jennifer Batey later testified the blood tested “within all scientific certainty” that the blood on Smith’s shoes matched Fragstein’s DNA profile.
“This defendant and Tacori Mackrell stomped [Fragstein] to death,” Hout said during closing statements.
Though prosecutors did not get an answer during Mackrell’s trial about the blood on Smith’s shoes, Hout said the reason was clear following Smith’s trial.
“At the very end we’ve finally learned how blood got on his shoes … it’s because he’s MG Glow and MG Glow stomps people to death,” Hout said.
While the 18-year-old was on the stand, Crews had questioned him about his affiliation with a group known as Murder Gang. Smith testified it was a music group.
Though the Pine Bluff teen said it was only a music group, Crews pointed out that one of the songs the group has put out is about stomping people to death and that the group sings about violent acts.
After the jury found Smith guilty as charged, the jury was released for the night. The sentencing phase of Smith’s trial will begin at 9 a.m. Friday.