Court papers de­scribe killing of vet­eran

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - CLARA TUR­NAGE

Court doc­u­ments re­leased Fri­day in a south Arkansas homi­cide de­scribe the bru­tal as­sault and death of a mil­i­tary vet­eran, whose body was found buried near a dirt road last month in Clark County.

Three Amity res­i­dents — Wil­liam Pen­nino, 27, Brock Al­ton Hen­thorn, 22, and Dar­tanya D. Sta­ple­ton, 21 — were ar­rested last month and charged with first-de­gree mur­der in the case.

The vet­eran was beaten, stran­gled and shot. His throat was slashed and his body was wrapped in plas­tic and buried, ac­cord­ing to af­fi­davits for war­rants for the ar­rests of the three sus­pects.

On Jan. 23, Clark County deputies be­gan look­ing for 58-year-old John D. Rat­ton, who had been re­ported miss­ing, the af­fi­davit said.

Two peo­ple told deputies that they had seen Rat­ton that day when his ve­hi­cle pulled up to a res­i­dence at 187 Nor­ris Road in a ru­ral area.

Pen­nino, who was in­side the di­lap­i­dated, one-story house, went out­side and spoke to some­one for a mo­ment, ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit and prop­erty records.

He quickly re­turned to the house and told the two wit­nesses in­side to stay away from the win­dows, then he

loaded a ri­fle and walked out to­ward the ve­hi­cle, the af­fi­davit said.

The wit­nesses said they went to the win­dow and saw Hen­thorn and a woman they knew as “Cal­ico” as­sault Rat­ton, ac­cord­ing to the court doc­u­ment.

Cal­ico, who po­lice later iden­ti­fied as Sta­ple­ton, and Hen­thorn were stand­ing be­side the pas­sen­ger door of Rat­ton’s car “beat­ing” Rat­ton, who was in the back seat, ac­cord­ing to the wit­nesses’ state­ments in the doc­u­ment.

Sta­ple­ton then drove the car onto a nearby dirt road as Pen­nino fol­lowed on foot car­ry­ing the ri­fle, the af­fi­davit said. Wit­nesses re­ported hear­ing six gun­shots min­utes later, the doc­u­ment said.

When deputies ar­rived to in­ves­ti­gate the miss­ing-per­son re­port, they found blood­stains in the drive­way out­side the house, the af­fi­davit said. They fol­lowed a trail of blood down a gravel stretch of road­way near the house and to a shovel that was ly­ing near an area of dis­turbed earth, the af­fi­davit said.

In the fol­low­ing days, the three sus­pects gave con­flict­ing ac­counts of what hap­pened to Rat­ton, ac­cord­ing to the court doc­u­ment.

Sta­ple­ton told an in­ves­ti­ga­tor that she used a fold­ing ra­zor knife to cut Rat­ton’s throat and shot Rat­ton in the head, the af­fi­davit said.

Sta­ple­ton had the knife in a ny­lon case when she was be­ing booked into jail, and deputies con­fis­cated it, the af­fi­davit said.

Hen­thorn told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that Sta­ple­ton cut Rat­ton’s throat, and that Rat­ton had strug­gled and tried to get out of the car while it was parked at the house, the af­fi­davit said. Hen­thorn said he picked up the bleed­ing man and put him in the back seat, and Sta­ple­ton drove them down the nearby dirt road, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment.

Hen­thorn told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he de­cided to stran­gle Rat­ton “to put him out of his mis­ery,” the af­fi­davit said. Then Pen­nino ar­rived with the gun and shot Rat­ton in his head “mul­ti­ple times,” Hen­thorn told in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Then Hen­thorn and Pen­nino wrapped Rat­ton’s body in plas­tic, buried it and set Rat­ton’s car on fire, the af­fi­davit said.

On Jan. 24, Pen­nino led Clark County Sher­iff Ja­son Wat­son to the makeshift grave, where Arkansas State Po­lice spe­cial agents and deputies had al­ready un­earthed Rat­ton’s plas­tic-cov­ered body, the doc­u­ment said.

Rat­ton lived in Amity, a town of about 650 peo­ple that’s about 27 miles north­west of Arkadel­phia. Amity po­lice of­fi­cers, who as­sisted in the search, knew Rat­ton and iden­ti­fied him af­ter dig­ging his bat­tered body from the dirt, the af­fi­davit said.

In the house’s bed­room near some bloody shoes and red-splat­tered cloth­ing, in­ves­ti­ga­tors found a .22-cal­iber ri­fle that Pen­nino told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he used to shoot Rat­ton, the af­fi­davit said.

The car, which Pen­nino and Hen­thorn said they drove away from the grave and burned, was also found, the af­fi­davit said.

Noth­ing in the af­fi­davit men­tions a mo­tive for the slay­ing.

Pen­nino and Sta­ple­ton, have no crim­i­nal records, though Hen­thorn has a his­tory of vi­o­lence, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

By the age of 17, Hen­thorn had been ar­rested on seven charges of break­ing and en­ter­ing and theft of prop­erty, court records show.

In Septem­ber, he was ar­rested on charges of sec­ond-de­gree bat­tery af­ter po­lice say he used a shovel to beat a woman in the head and on her arms, ac­cord­ing to an af­fi­davit. He was sen­tenced in Novem­ber to 72 months of pro­ba­tion, court records show.

Aside from a traf­fic ticket in 2010, Rat­ton had no crim­i­nal record, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

An obit­u­ary sub­mit­ted to the Davis-Smith Fu­neral Home in Glen­wood says Rat­ton was a U.S. Air Force vet­eran who “loved play­ing with his grand­ba­bies.”

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