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Sharp v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

April 18, 2018



          Keith, Miller, Butler, Schneider & Pawlik, PLLC, by: Kristin L. Pawlik, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Rachel Kemp, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         Appellant James Larail Sharp, Jr., appeals the Sebastian County Circuit Court's April 11, 2017 denial of his motion to transfer to the juvenile division of circuit court and for an extended juvenile jurisdiction (EJJ) designation. He argues that the decision should be reversed because the trial court clearly erred in finding that his case should not be transferred. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         Appellant was charged in the Sebastian County Circuit Court with one count of murder in the first degree, a Class Y felony; two counts of aggravated robbery, a Class Y felony; and one count of kidnapping, a Class Y felony. The charges arose from an event that occurred on January 23, 2016, and the victim was identified as Kaleb Glenn Watson.

         Bailey Smith testified that on January 23, 2016, she was with Watson at his apartment watching television when someone knocked at the front door. Watson got up to answer the door, but no one was there. As Watson shut the front door, two masked men wearing all black came through the back door. The men ordered Watson to sit down on the couch beside Smith. Smith stated that one of the men had a gun in his hand and the other had a tote bag. The man with the gun demanded that Smith and Watson give him all their money and everything else they had and then grabbed Watson's phone and wallet from the coffee table and put them in his pocket. He then pointed the gun at Watson and instructed the man with the tote bag to "tie him up, " referring to Watson. The man with the tote bag tied up Watson with a shoelace and put Watson's shotguns in the bag.

         The man with the gun then turned his back on Smith and Watson, and Watson was able to free himself and jump on the man with the gun. The man with the gun fired four shots into Watson's chest. Smith stated that the individual who was holding the bag dropped it and ran out the back door. The shooter also ran out the back door. Watson later died from his injuries. Photographs of Watson's body were introduced, reflecting that he had sustained bullet wounds to the upper left chest, upper right thigh, and left earlobe. Shell casings from a 9mm firearm were found at the scene. Smith identified the perpetrators as black males that looked to be fifteen or sixteen years old.

         On January 24, 2016, the Fort Smith Police Department received an anonymous tip that someone wanted to provide information regarding Watson's death. Dionte Parks and his mother, LaRhonda Marable, arrived at the police station that afternoon. Parks told Detective Anthony Parkinson that appellant and his brother, Shakur, had stopped by Parks's house on January 23, 2016, showed him a gun they had stolen earlier that day, and told him they wanted to "hit a lick." Parks stated that appellant and Shakur asked for a bag and some rope or string. Parks gave them a bag and a shoelace from one of his shoes. Parks later saw appellant and his brother, who told him they were going to rob Watson and that they wanted Parks to knock on the front door, run off, and then go in the back door with them. Parks explained that he did not want to do it, but Shakur pulled out a gun.

         Parks went along with the plan; however, after knocking on the front door, instead of going to Watson's back door, Parks ran away from the apartment. Parks stated that he heard approximately eight gunshots and then saw both appellant and Shakur running from Watson's apartment. Parks also stated that before entering, appellant had taken a compound bow out of Watson's truck and had given it to Parks, who took it to his house and hid it in a closet. Parkinson recovered the stolen bow and the pair of running shoes from which Parks had removed the shoelace that he had given to appellant and Shakur.

         Parks also explained to Parkinson that he had contact with appellant on Facebook Messenger after the incident. In the messages, Parks told appellant that Watson was dead. Appellant told Parks not to snitch and described how they had disposed of the gun and that no one had seen their faces. Parks also told Parkinson that, during their discussions before the robbery, Shakur said that if Watson resisted, he would shoot him in the leg.

         Appellant and Shakur were found and arrested in Little Rock on January 27, 2016. Parkinson obtained a statement from Shakur during transport to Fort Smith. Shakur confessed that he had gone into Watson's residence. He stated that Parks was supposed to knock on the front door and then go to the back door and go inside, but Parks did not do that, so appellant went inside with him. Shakur said that appellant tied Watson up with the shoelace, but that Watson freed himself from the restraint and rushed Shakur, at which time the gun went off and kept going off. Shakur stated that appellant ran out the back door and that he followed him. Shakur claimed that it was Parks who told him there were guns, money, and maybe marijuana in Watson's house and that it would be a "good place to hit a lick."

         Detective Troy Williams obtained a statement from appellant while transporting him from Little Rock to Fort Smith. During the ride, Williams read appellant his Miranda rights and proceeded to question him; appellant confessed to participating in the crime along with Shakur and Parks. Appellant told Williams that he had stolen a 9mm gun from a car earlier on January 23. He said that he took it back to a friend's apartment, where the friend and Shakur test fired it. He claimed that Parks messaged another friend about "hitting a lick, " but when he declined, appellant and Shakur went to Parks's house to discuss it. Appellant said that Parks had taken a bow out of Watson's truck and had taken it to his house. The remainder of appellant's statement corroborated Shakur's statement about what had happened inside Watson's house. Upon arrival at the police department, appellant again was read his Miranda rights and questioned a second time by detectives, and he again described the events of January 23, 2016.

         On April 22, 2016, appellant filed a motion to transfer to the juvenile division of the circuit court and for an EJJ designation. Appellant's motion was based largely on the fact that, at the time the crimes occurred, he was fifteen-years and seven-months of age and that he is an unsophisticated, immature juvenile.

         A four-day hearing on appellant's motion was held on February 27, February 28, March 1, and March 29, 2017, during which nineteen witnesses testified. On April 11, 2017, the circuit court issued a four-page order denying appellant's motion, [1] making the following factual findings on each of the ten factors enumerated in Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-318(g) (Repl. 2015):

(1) The seriousness of the alleged offense and whether the protection of society requires prosecution in the criminal division of circuit court. The circuit court noted that appellant was charged with four Class Y felonies, the most serious classification of offenses other than capital murder. It specifically found that the offenses "could hardly be more serious" and "[d]ue to the seriousness of the offenses and this defendant's level of participation in them, the Court is of the opinion the issue of societal protection weighs in favor of the State."
(2) Whether the offense was committed in an aggressive, violent, premeditated, or willful manner. The circuit court found the offenses were committed in an aggressive, premeditated, and willful manner. It noted that "[w]hile it is true that Shakur Sharp directed the actions of the defendant during the events, it must also be noted that the defendant participated willingly in the planning and commission of violent offenses knowing a gun would be involved, witnesses would be restrained and according to the other codefendant, that Shakur was ready to shoot a victim who resisted. The fact the defendant was nervous, scared and incompetent does not belie the nature in which the offenses were committed. As to premeditation, the evidence was clear there was a plan formulated and that the defendant was at the very least present during that planning." The circuit court also noted that, with respect to that plan, appellant stole the murder weapon from another victim and that "[b]ut for that, the death of Kaleb Watson would likely not have occurred."
(3) Whether the offense was against a person or property, with greater weight being given to offenses against persons, especially if personal injury resulted. The circuit court found that the offenses were committed against not one, but two persons, and personal injury in the form of the death of Watson resulted.
(4) The culpability of the juvenile, including the level of planning and participation in the alleged offense. The circuit court found that appellant's culpability was "significant, " noting that "[h]e not only was present at the planning of the robbery and kidnapping, which led to the homicide, he actively participated in offenses he knew were being committed with a gun he had himself stolen." His ...

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