Clock runs out; charges dismissed
Hancock accused in fatal stabbing in Fayetteville
FAYETTEVILLE — Murder charges against a homeless man accused of killing another homeless man two years ago in Walker Park were dismissed Wednesday because the case was not brought to trial in time.
Matt Durrett, Washington County prosecutor, said his office just dropped the ball and it won’t happen again.
“It was our fault, we have to take responsibility for what happened. It slipped through,” Durrett said. “You can make explanations, but you really can’t make an an excuse for what happened. We can’t point fingers at anyone but ourselves. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we know what’s going on with speedy trial and making sure that we don’t let the clock run.”
Police found the body of Anthony Dell Jackson, 58, under a pavilion in the park on West 15th Street about 11:15 p.m. Aug. 31, 2015, according to a preliminary police report. Jackson was stabbed in the neck and head.
Jimmy Lee Hancock, 50, was found near a knife and Jackson’s body, according to the police report. Hancock appeared to have blood on him.
Hancock was arrested the same night and booked the next day into the Washington County Detention Center. He pleaded not guilty Oct. 2, 2015, to charges of first-degree murder, aggravated assault and terroristic threatening. Hancock was facing 10 to 40 years or life in prison.
The case was continued at least eight times. It was set for trial Aug. 16 before Washington County Circuit Judge Joanna Taylor.
Autumn Tolbert, an attorney for Hancock, filed motions Friday saying Hancock had been in jail since his arrest and the case should be dismissed for failure to comply with speedy trial rules. Judge Taylor agreed.
Prosecutors have a year to bring a person to trial. Any delays in a case are charged to the side responsible for them.
Chreea Booher, the deputy prosecutor handling the case, filed a response Monday contending the time would not have run by the date Hancock’s trial began. But, Booher said by email Wednesday it appears she missed the deadline by nine or 10 days.
“It was a difficult case. The defendant and the victim as well as several of the witnesses were homeless. The state’s key witness died while the case was pending,” Booher wrote. “The state continued to work to find other witnesses and additional evidence, including sending an additional item to the Arkansas State Crime Lab in May, and the clock ran out.”
Tolbert said Wednesday the defense team was prepared for the upcoming trial.
“Although Mr. Hancock was looking forward to presenting his defense in court, he is relieved the charges against him were dismissed,” Tolbert said.
Hancock was released from jail Wednesday morning, Tolbert said.
Durrett said he met with the victim’s family Wednesday to explain what happened and hopes to never have to have that painful conversation again.
“I don’t want to chalk it up to a learning experience because that kind of minimizes the severity of it,” Durrett said. “But, I emphasized to everybody that the take away from this is you have to stay on top of everything, because if it can happen to Chreea, who’s about as squared away as a person can get, it can happen to anybody. Chreea is sick over it.”
Durrett said he could remember only one other instance of speedy trial rules coming into play and that case was some 15 years ago when he was a deputy prosecutor. It involved delays getting evidence to the crime lab.
Hancock told police he was at the pavilion with Jackson, but he didn’t remember how Jackson died.
A witness told police Hancock had been involved in an assault and threatening incident before the killing happened.
The witness also told police Hancock held a knife to his chest because he refused to drink with Hancock. The witness described a knife similar to what was recovered near Jackson, according to police.
The witness told police he saw Jackson and Hancock together before a police officer arrived on patrol.
Hancock told police he didn’t assault the witness.