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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

October 26, 2017

LARON EDWARD WILLIAMS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE CLARK COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 10CR-15-20] HONORABLE ROBERT MCCALLUM, JUDGE

          Terrence Cain, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Rebecca Bailey Kane, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          JOHN DAN KEMP, Chief Justice

         Appellant Laron Williams and two accomplices, Craig Wade and James Gray, Jr., were charged with aggravated robbery and capital murder. Appellant was tried individually by a Clark County jury, found guilty on both counts, and sentenced to a total term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.[1] For reversal, appellant contends that the circuit court (1) erred in denying his motions for directed verdict and (2) abused its discretion by admitting into evidence gruesome and inflammatory photographs of the victim's body. We affirm.

         This case arises from the aggravated robbery and capital murder of Christopher Brown at a Caddo Valley Shell gas station and convenience store. Brown was the clerk on duty at the time. The criminal episode was captured on time-stamped surveillance videos, which were played for the jury.

         On the morning of January 24, 2015, Craig Wade and James Gray, Jr., picked up appellant at his home in Pine Bluff. At approximately 2:00 p.m., the three left Pine Bluff and drove in Gray's car to the casino at the Oaklawn racetrack in Hot Springs. They gambled, drank alcohol, and used drugs for several hours before starting back to Pine Bluff during the early morning hours of January 25. While driving home, they realized that the car was low on fuel and that none of them had any money.

         Videos show Gray's car, a silver Ford, pulling up to the store for the first time at approximately 4:25 a.m. Appellant and Wade exited the vehicle and went inside the store. After buying a package of gum, the two returned to the car and drove away from the station at 04:30:50.

         At 04:38:11, the silver Ford returned to the Shell station and parked near the back entrance of the store. No one exited the vehicle for more than four minutes. Appellant testified that, during this time, they were planning how they would steal a thirty-pack of beer so that they could sell it for gas money. Appellant further testified that he attempted to conceal his identity by wrapping a jacket around his waist to cover his pants pockets and pulling a wave cap down over his face.

         Videos show that at 04:42:52, appellant and Wade simultaneously exited the vehicle. They entered the store together at 04:42:56. Wade ran toward the counter, and at 04:43, he shot Brown in the forehead. Brown fell to the floor behind the counter. Wade appeared to be frantic, running inside the store and then outside to the car, falling twice as he fled.

         Meanwhile, appellant ran behind the counter, covered his hands with the t-shirt he was wearing, and attempted to open the cash register. Unable to open the register, appellant stepped over Brown's body and appeared to be looking for something to steal behind the counter. He then leaned over and searched Brown's pockets. Videos show that appellant stayed in the store about fifteen seconds longer than Wade. When appellant exited the store, he left a trail of bloody footprints from behind the counter into the car, which Gray had positioned to facilitate a quick getaway.

         Appellant denied that, during their first trip to the store, he, Wade, and Gray were "casing it" for a possible robbery. Appellant maintained he did not know that Wade had a gun and that he was "shocked" when Wade shot the victim. Appellant acknowledged that after the shot had been fired, he could be seen on the video attempting to open the cash register, stepping over the victim's body, and looking around behind the counter. Appellant claimed, however, that he merely pretended to proceed with the crime because he feared that Wade would shoot him.

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Appellant contends that the State failed to prove that he was guilty of the underlying felony of aggravated robbery to support a conviction for capital murder. He concedes that his intent to commit theft was established by his admission that he went into the store to steal beer. But he contends that there is insufficient evidence to establish that he was an accomplice ...


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