Court papers describe killing of veteran
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.”