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Airsman v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

December 4, 2014


Page 566


Camille Edmison-Wilhelmi, for appellant.

Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Jake H. Jones, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


Page 567

PAUL E. DANIELSON, Associate Justice.

Appellant Don Airsman, Jr., appeals from the sentencing order of the Hempstead County Circuit Court reflecting his conviction for first-degree murder and his sentence to life imprisonment, plus a fifteen-year enhancement for use of a firearm. He asserts three points on appeal: (1) that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for first-degree murder; (2) that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress his statements; and (3) that the circuit court erred in denying his motion in limine to exclude certain photographs. We affirm Airsman's convictions and sentence.

On April 27, 2012, the Hempstead County Sheriff's Office received a report from the Bowie County Sheriff's Office that the burnt vehicle of William Allen Jones, Jr., had been found in Bowie County, Texas. Deputy James Braddock was dispatched to Jones's residence in Saratoga, Arkansas, for a welfare check around 10:45 p.m. that evening; however, he was unable to make contact with anyone at the home.

The next morning, Jones's daughter, Kristi Dellinger, was contacted by Jones's girlfriend, Karla Denton, who told Dellinger that Jones had not shown up for plans that they had made together for the night before. Dellinger then tried to contact Airsman, her stepbrother and Jones's stepson, to see if he knew of Jones's whereabouts. At trial, Dellinger testified that Airsman told her that her father had been at Airsman's home the night before, had picked up a few things, had checked

Page 568

his mail, and then left a little before 8:00 p.m. She further testified that Airsman told her that he himself had left the home at 9:00 p.m. and went to Missouri.

After Dellinger spoke with Airsman, she contacted family members who searched the areas in which they believed that Jones would have traveled the evening before. Dellinger also went to Jones's home in which Airsman lived, although Jones was not living in the home at the time. When she did not find Jones, she contacted law enforcement officials who were dispatched to the home. When officers arrived, Dellinger informed them that Jones had been scared of Airsman and had sought protection from him. While Investigator Justin Crane of the sheriff's office was talking with Dellinger, he noticed partial, bloody shoe prints on the porch of the home, as well as large amounts of blood on the side of the driveway. At that time, he contacted his captain, Frank McJunkins.

The same day, around 1:30 p.m., Officer Bill Landers with the Bowie County Sheriff's Office returned a phone call from Captain McJunkins, who asked him to look at Jones's vehicle again, in light of the missing-person report and crime scene at the Saratoga home. Officer Landers did so, and he discovered a body in the back of the vehicle. Also located inside the Honda Fit vehicle were ammunition and a gun, as well as burned clothing.

After learning of a protective order that Jones had sought against Airsman but was not served, and armed with the knowledge that Airsman had claimed to have seen Jones the night before, Airsman was developed as a suspect and believed to be the last person to have seen Jones alive. A " be on the lookout" (" BOLO" ), was issued, stating that Airsman was wanted for questioning, should be held and detained, and could possibly be in the Jonesboro area or en route to Dunklin County, Missouri, where his father resided. The sheriff in Dunklin County was contacted to ensure receipt of the BOLO, which was confirmed.

Upon receipt of the BOLO, the Dunklin County Sheriff's Office located Airsman at his father's home, arrested him, and took him into custody. A warrant for his arrest was subsequently applied for and received by Arkansas law enforcement, and Captain McJunkins and some other officers flew to Dunklin County. On their arrival, Captain McJunkins and Hays McWhirter, Criminal Investigator for the Arkansas State Police, interviewed Airsman. Airsman was Mirandized and completed a Miranda form waiving his rights.

During the videotaped interview (" the Missouri statement" ), which was admitted at trial, Airsman told the officers that, two days before, he had been in Saratoga with his father, who had been visiting him. Airsman said that he had left the night before the interview at 9:00 p.m. and driven to Dunklin County, following his father. Airsman told the officers that the last time he had seen Jones was before he had left Saratoga. Airsman told them that, while Jones no longer stayed at the home that he had shared with Airsman's mother, who had passed away, Jones came to the home around 4:00 or 4:30 p.m. and " walked around the place . . . picked up a few things out of the house and talked for awhile." Airsman then told the officers that Jones had left the home shortly before 8:00 p.m.

After being told that Jones's car had been found, Airsman " deduced" that Jones was dead, and he denied shooting Jones and further denied that his father had done so. In addition, he denied taking Jones's car to Texas and setting fire to it, and he denied having any knowledge of blood being in the driveway or the house. The officers told Airsman that he had been arrested on a probable-cause affidavit and,

Page 569

at that point, Airsman again claimed his innocence and announced that he wanted to speak to his attorney.

Airsman waived extradition, and he was brought back to Hempstead County on May 2. After being booked, Airsman requested to speak with Captain McJunkins. He was again Mirandized and waived his rights. In his statement to Captain McJunkins (" the Arkansas statement" ), Airsman admitted shooting Jones, claiming that he did so after Jones had pulled a gun on him and then directed it toward Airsman's father. An information was subsequently filed, charging Airsman with first-degree murder and noting the State's contention that Airsman should receive an enhanced sentence for employing a firearm.

Following the circuit court's denial of Airsman's motion to suppress his statements, he was tried by a jury, convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to a total term of life imprisonment plus fifteen ...

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