Clock runs out; charges dis­missed

Han­cock ac­cused in fa­tal stab­bing in Fayet­teville

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - RON WOOD

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.


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