Dad receives max sentence for deaths of son, daughter
After deliberating for only 20 minutes, a jury of seven men and six woman found a father guilty of causing the 2017 deaths of his two children.
While in Saline County Circuit Court on Thursday, Jonathan Welborn, 32, was stoic as the verdict was read. Welborn received the maximum sentence — 52 years — for his charges which included two counts of negligent homicide and two counts of firstdegree endangering the welfare of a minor.
Welborn testified that while under the influence of methamphetamine he drove a vehicle with his children into a pond. While “in shock” he returned to a residence on Arkansas 298 and told the children’s mother and others at the residence that his vehicle had been stolen. The children were later located, along with the truck, in a nearby pond.
“I wanted to believe that the truck was going to be there (at the residence),” Welborn said. “In my mind, I blocked that out.”
He said the incident was an accident, saying he was “owning up.”
During the sentencing portion of the trial, Saline County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Bush asked the jury to give Welborn the harshest sentence possible.
“He left those babies strapped in that car,” said Bush. “I can’t imagine that’s not worth the maximum penalty.”
She explained that when taking into account good behavior, Welborn, with the maximum sentence, will be released in less than nine years. He will also receive credit for the more than two years he already served at the Saline County Detention Center prior to
After the jury returned a guilty verdict, both the prosecution and defense had the opportunity to speak with the jury before members deliberated on a sentence.
Welborn’s mother, Nancy Welborn, asked the jury to have compassion and mercy.
“He trusts you to give a decision that was honest and from your heart,” his mother pleaded. “I ask you to have compassion.”
She spoke of her son’s faith and how he has lead many men to become Christians.
The children’s mother, Brittany Hairston, as well as their grandmother, Angela Holloway, read statement about how that tragic night has affected their lives. Two-year-old Sophia loved princess dresses and baby dolls and Zaine, 5 months, had said “Mama” for the first time.
“It is now memories. That is all I have,” Hairston said.
Hairston and Welborn were both emotional as she read her statement and spoke of her night terrors and suicide attempts.
“It’s hard for me to go through the day,” she said. “My life will never be the same.
Earlier in the trial, Hairston, who also was charged in connection with the incident, admitted to making bad decisions that day.
For leaving the children inside the vehicle and unattended, Hairston was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a minor.
As part of an agreement in November 2017, when she pleaded guilty, she was required “to testify truthfully in the trial of Jonathan Welborn.”
She received a sentence of 72 months probation and is required to attend parenting classes and mental health counseling.
“I felt like I failed as a mother,” she said during her testimony Tuesday. “I could have just been a better mom … maybe the situation could have been different.”
In Welborn’s account of the day, he said the family stopped at a residence on Arkansas 298.
“I had a really bad feeling about it,” Welborn said while explaining that the detour was Hairston’s idea.
While Hairston and Jerico Cantrell were inside the home playing pool, Welborn said he was sitting in the vehicle with the children. He told the jury what he was thinking at the time.
“Is she not thinking about us? Is she not thinking about the babies?” he testified.
He explained that he went from the vehicle to the residence twice. While inside the house at one point, Welborn smoked methamphetamine, he testified.
“They passed the pipe to me and I hit it,” he said, adding that Cantrell and the owner of the residence were smoke methamphetamine.
Eventually when he went back to the vehicle, he noticed that Sophia had woken up. He told the jury he took her out of her car seat and sat her in his lap while she was eating cheese and playing. He later returned to the house to retrieve Hairston’s phone and attempted to contact someone in hopes that she would pick up the children. He told the jury he was not comfortable driving since he had taken a couple sips of alcohol at the swimming hole and smoked methamphetamine at the residence.
Because he did not have any cellphone reception, he decided to move the vehicle to send the message.
He testified that he put the vehicle in reverse and started backing up when he saw Cantrell outside yelling for him to get out of the truck.
As he continued backing up with Sophia in his lap, he said he saw Cantrell “coming at me” and ducked. At this point, he pressed the accelerator of the vehicle. Welborn testified that Cantrell was hanging onto the vehicle until it struck a barbed wire fence.
When the vehicle struck a tree, it died, according to the defendant. Welborn told the jury he tried to jam the gears to stop the truck but was unsuccessful.
“Before I know it, I go into a pond. I start sinking with my kids,” he said. “I look down and see my little boy going under in a sinking truck,” Welborn testified.
He told the jury he threw Sophia toward the shore, along with attempting to unbuckle Zaine’s car seat, but was unsuccessful.
“I think I tried to run and get help. It’s kind of a blur,” he said.
Once he returned to the residence he gave Hairston a kiss and froze. Eventually, while searching for the truck, he jumped in the pond and found the truck door “That’s when everything hit me,” he told the jury.
Welborn testified that he was praying to God “forgive me for having my kids at that place.”
Welborn also told the jury about his disability as well as his “constant struggle” with drug abuse.
Some of what Welborn told the jury did not match what others had said during testimony or what Welborn had told police. Mark Hampton, who was serving as Welborn’s legal counsel, told members of the jury he was “surprised about my client’s behavior.”
As Welborn told his side of the story, many jurors, as well as family members in the gallery, became quite emotional.
“We — officers of the court, court personnel, prosecuting and defense attorneys — some times get a little hardened to things, but we never do get used to cases like this,” Judge Grisham Phillips told the jury at the conclusion of the trial.
Jonathan Welborn, 32, is escorted from the Saline County Courthouse on Thursday after being sentenced to 52 years in the Arkansas Department of Correction for the 2017 drowning deaths of his daughter and son. A jury found Welborn guilty of negligent homicide, ending the three-day trial.