Man to receive new sentence in capital murder case
More than 10 years after being convicted of aggravated robbery and capital murder, a man is once again in Saline County Circuit Court to receive a new sentence.
Montrell Ventry was 17 in 2007 when he was arrested in connection with a deadly armed robbery. After his conviction, he received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, but recently the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that a juvenile cannot be given a life sentence without parole eligibility and his previous sentence was vacated.
After hearing evidence from both sides in the case, the jury of eight women and five men will have the option to sentence Ventry to 10 to 40 years or a life sentence with parole eligibility. If he receives a life sentence once again, Ventry could be eligible for parole in 18 years, said Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Bush who is representing the state’s case with Saline County Prosecutor Chris Walton.
“That is not a ticket to get out. That is a ticket to go before the Parole Board,” said Jeff Rosenzweig who is serving as Ventry’s legal counsel.
After several hours of questioning, a jury was selected. Members of the jury heard opening arguments from both sides, as well as testimony from law enforcement officers and the victim.
The first witness to be called was Eddie Dixon, who was robbed during the incident.
Dixon told the jury about his memory of Aug. 5, 2007. He explained that he and his cousin, Nick Jones Jr., were from North Little Rock, but decided to travel to Benton so Dixon could visit a girl he had met on social media.
At approximately 9:30 p.m., the girl directed the two men to an industrial area on Neely Street. When they arrived, the girl and three men, including Ventry, robbed the two victims at gunpoint. Dixon testified that he was ordered to empty his pockets and take off his clothes.
He heard two gunshots and eventually was able to run to the nearby Saline County Sheriff’s Office.
Bush told the jury during her opening arguments that Jones had been shot “between the eyes” by Ventry. He died about two weeks later after Ventry turned 18 years old, she said.
Jones’ death was “very painful and hard to watch for his family,”
At the time of death,
Jones as married with two young sons.
When asked about his relationship with his cousin, Dixon said they were like brothers and they saw each other everyday.
Because of this experience, Dixon said it is very hard for him to trust people.
“You never know. It might happen again,” he said.
Lt. Don Robertson, with the Benton Police Department, testified that he was called to the scene when a woman reported that a man, Nick Jones, whose face was covered in blood, was on her front porch. Jones attempted to communicate
with police, but was unable to because of his injuries, Robertson said.
The day after the robbery, Ventry was located in White Hall driving the vehicle belonging to Jones.
Phillip Peckham, who worked for the White Hall Police Department, explainwd that he stopped the vehicle after receiving reports of an erratic driver. During the traffic stop, Ventry ran from police, but was later apprehended.
Peckham testified that during his arrest, Ventry was rapping about being “a blood” “soldier,” “blowing somebody’s head off” and “going to burn in Hell.”
He noted that he took Ventry’s rapping to be him “bragging about being a gang member.”
Peckham would later
locate an open beer, marijuana and the gun used to shoot Jones inside the vehicle, he told the jury.
The final witness of the day was Detective Chris Shaw, who investigated the incident while working for the Benton Police Department.
As part of his testimony, the jury watched a video recording of Shaw’s interview with Ventry. Ventry’s mother can also be seen on the recording.
During the interview, Ventry asked the detective if his life was over.
At the time, Ventry had completed his GED and was working two jobs, he told Shaw.
“You had everything going right,” Shaw said in the video.
At the beginning of the
interview, Ventry told police he was attacked by two people, but he would eventually come clean about participating in the robbery.
Because of technical difficulties, the jury was unable to see the entire video before the end of the day.
After recessing at approximately 5 p.m., the trial resumed at 9 a.m. today before Saline County Circuit Judge Gary Arnold.
Ventry is expected to testify during the trial. Rosenzweig told the jury that Ventry will tell them what he did.
His attorney explained that the “gun went off in (Ventry’s ) hand” but that “he didn’t intend to kill.”
“That is an important consideration for you to make,” Rosenzweig said.