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Thrower v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

September 13, 2018



          Hancock Law Firm, by: Sharon Kiel, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brad Newman, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         A Ouachita County jury convicted the appellant, Eric Thrower, of first-degree murder and arson. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for first-degree murder and a consecutive term of ten years' imprisonment for arson. Thrower argues nine points on appeal. Primarily, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence on both convictions and argues that the case must be reversed and remanded for a new trial due to deficiencies in the record. We find there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions, but reverse and remand for a new trial because the record is insufficient.

         I. Facts

         Eric Thrower was charged with the murder of Erika Batton and arson. Emergency personnel were called to a fire at Batton's apartment and discovered her body inside. An autopsy revealed that she sustained "severe blunt and sharp force injuries of the head with extensive internal bleeding around the neck and scalp" and bleeding around her brain.

         Two of the State's witnesses, Demontrey Hathaway and Cornelius Hennings, were with Thrower only hours before the murder. Both recalled that just prior to Batton's murder, Thrower learned that his close friend, Courtney Anderson, had been arrested. They similarly detailed how Thrower became mad, and even cried. Thrower blamed Batton for the arrest, identifying her as a "snitch." According to both Hathaway and Hennings, Thrower maintained a bitter hatred toward snitches, wishing that "they were all dead."

         Additional evidence revealed that bloody footprints trailing out of Batton's apartment measured the same length as Thrower's foot. Cullen Rufus, a resident of the same apartment complex, also testified that he saw Thrower "creeping" around the complex shortly after the murder. Finally, two recorded interviews between Camden police and Thrower revealed that Thrower knew crime-scene details that were not publicly available.

         The State's key witness was Thrower's sister, Francine Cobb. She also testified that Thrower was visibly upset after hearing of Anderson's arrest. After Batton was identified as the "snitch," Cobb saw Thrower enter Batton's apartment. Cobb heard an altercation erupt and heard Batton emit "a horrible gut-wrenching scream." Approximately fifteen minutes later, Thrower returned to Cobb's apartment with blood spatters on his shirt and socks. Cobb testified that Thrower admitted to stabbing Batton and setting her apartment on fire.

         The jury convicted Thrower of first-degree murder and arson. Thrower appealed. During briefing, appellant's counsel discovered that the jury instructions, and every bench conference, were missing from the record. He filed a motion to require correction or supplementation of the record, which this court granted. The circuit court conducted a reconstruction hearing. The record was supplemented to include the transcript from that hearing, an affidavit from the original court reporter, and an order from the circuit court. Thrower raises nine issues on appeal.

         II. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Thrower's first point on appeal challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the murder and arson convictions. He contends that the court erroneously denied his motions for directed verdict because the State's only evidence of guilt was Cobb's testimony and a single bloodied footprint in Batton's kitchen. Thrower argues that because Cobb was initially charged as his alleged accomplice, her testimony was not credible and not otherwise corroborated.

         In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the State and only consider the evidence that supports the verdict. See, e.g., Tarver v. State, 2018 Ark. 202, 547 S.W.3d 689. We will affirm the conviction when substantial evidence supports it. Id. Substantial evidence constitutes evidence of sufficient force and character to compel a reasonably certain conclusion, without resorting to speculation or conjecture. Id. To affirm Thrower's first-degree murder conviction, substantial evidence must support the conclusion that Thrower purposely caused Batton's death. See Ark. Code Ann. ยง 5-10-102 (Supp. 2017). We will affirm Thrower's arson conviction if substantial evidence indicates that ...

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