FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 35CR-15-191]
HONORABLE ALEX GUYNN, JUDGE
COURTNEY HUDSON GOODSON, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE.
in the Jefferson County Circuit Court found appellant
Christopher Fletcher guilty of capital murder, for which he
was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole plus an
additional fifteen years for using a firearm in the
commission of the crime. Fletcher's attorney filed a
no-merit brief pursuant to Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 4-3(k)
(2017) and Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738
(1967), asserting that there are no nonfrivolous issues for
appeal. Specifically, counsel argues that (1) the trial court
did not commit reversible error in denying Fletcher's
motions for a directed verdict, (2) the sentence imposed was
allowed pursuant to the capital-murder statute, and (3) the
trial court did not commit reversible error in allowing the
introduction of testimony from two witnesses and a drawing
from a third witness. For reversal, Fletcher has filed pro se
points disputing the points counsel argued and also alleging
that his appellate counsel was ineffective. The State has
responded. In compliance with Rule 4-3(i), because this is a
life-imprisonment case, the State has certified that all
adverse rulings have been abstracted and evaluated and that
no other issues warrant briefing. Our jurisdiction is
pursuant to Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 1-2(a)(2). After
having reviewed the record, briefs, and pro se points, we
affirm and grant counsel's motion to withdraw.
amended felony information, the Jefferson County Prosecuting
Attorney charged Fletcher with capital murder in the shooting
death of Laronda McElroy. The record reflects that Officer
Sylvester Davis of the Pine Bluff Police Department was
dispatched to 708 West 27th Street in Pine Bluff on April 13,
2015, to respond to a reported shooting. At trial, Davis
testified that when he arrived, he found McElroy in a nearby
yard, unresponsive, with gunshot wounds to her leg, neck, and
head. Davis could not find a pulse. However, EMTs arrived,
found a pulse, and transported McElroy to a hospital. McElroy
later died as a result of her wounds. Detective Scott Norton
testified that Fletcher was arrested in Amarillo, Texas, the
day after the shooting.
children testified at the trial, and all four testified that
they knew the difference between the truth and a lie. Two of
the children, G.F. and C.F., were children McElroy had with
Fletcher. G.F., who was five years old at the time of trial,
identified Fletcher as his father and testified that
"[w]hen my momma was running, my daddy shot her in the
leg. And he walked up on my momma and shot her in the
head." C.F. was six years old at the time of the trial.
C.F. identified Fletcher as his father and testified that
Fletcher shot McElroy and then fled. Ten-year-old D.M., one
of McElroy's children by another father, testified that
he and his siblings were preparing to go to school when
Fletcher approached McElroy and pointed a gun at her while
she was in the car. D.M. testified that when McElroy exited
the vehicle and ran, Fletcher shot her in the leg and then
"came up and shot her in the face." T.H., a
twelve-year-old neighbor, testified that he witnessed
Fletcher point a gun at McElroy and shoot her when she ran
away. C.F. and D.M. both testified that Fletcher did not live
with them and McElroy.
Charles Kokes, the state medical examiner, testified that he
performed an autopsy on McElroy on April 14, 2015.
Kokes's autopsy revealed that McElroy sustained gunshot
wounds to the neck, leg, and head. Kokes testified that an
individual with only the neck or leg wounds he observed would
likely recover, but in his opinion, the head wound would
almost always be fatal. Kokes's final report indicates
that the cause of McElroy's death was gunshot wounds to
the head and leg.
murder weapon was not found, but investigators did find .357
magnum ammunition at Fletcher's residence. Rebecca
Mullen, the chief firearm-and-tool-marks examiner for the
Arkansas State Crime Lab testified that the bullets found in
Fletcher's home were of the same caliber class as the one
used in McElroy's murder.
on this and other testimony, the jury found Fletcher guilty
and he was sentenced as previously stated in this opinion.
Counsel has outlined each adverse ruling and explained why
none presents a meritorious ground for reversal. See
Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 4-3(k) (stating that counsel's brief
must contain an argument section that explains why each
adverse ruling "is not a meritorious ground for
reversal.") We also conclude that Fletcher's pro se
points provide no grounds for reversal.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
first argues that the trial court erred by denying his
motions for a directed verdict. At trial, Fletcher moved for
a directed verdict and argued that the State failed to prove
the premeditation and deliberation necessary to support a
capital-murder charge. Fletcher argues in his second pro se
point that the trial court was without authority to impose a
life-without-parole sentence because the State failed to
prove the premeditation and deliberation elements required to
support his capital-murder conviction.
appeal from the denial of a motion for a directed verdict is
treated as a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence.
Taffner v. State, 2018 Ark. 99, 541 S.W.3d 430.
Thus, Fletcher's first two pro se points are challenges
to the sufficiency of the evidence. In reviewing a challenge
to the sufficiency of the evidence, we determine whether the
verdict is supported by substantial evidence. Howard v.
State, 2016 Ark. 434, 506 S.W.3d 843. Substantial
evidence is evidence that is of sufficient force and
character that it will, with reasonable certainty, compel a
conclusion one way or the other, without resorting to
speculation or conjecture. Id. In reviewing a
sufficiency challenge, we view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the State, considering only evidence that
supports the verdict. Id.
to Arkansas Code Annotated § 5-10-101(a)(4) (Repl.
2013), a person commits capital murder if "with the
premeditated and deliberated purpose of causing the death of
another person, the person causes the death of any
person." Premeditated and deliberate murder occurs when
the killer's conscious object is to cause death, and he
forms that intention before he acts and as a result of
weighing the consequences of his course of conduct.
Brooks v. State, 2016 Ark. 305, 498 S.W.3d 292.
Premeditation need not exist for any particular length of
time and may be formed in an instant. Id.
Premeditation is rarely capable of proof by direct evidence
but usually must be inferred from the circumstances of the
crime. Id. A jury can infer premeditation and
deliberation from circumstantial evidence, such as the type
and character of the weapon used; the nature, extent, and
location of wounds inflicted; and the conduct of the accused.
does not dispute that he caused McElroy's death, but only
argues that the State failed to prove that he acted with
premeditation and deliberate purpose. However, substantial
evidence supports the verdict. Testimony at the trial
indicated that Fletcher did not live with McElroy and that he
waited outside her home with a firearm to confront her when
she left the home to transport her children to school. Four
witnesses, two of whom were Fletcher's own children,
testified that Fletcher shot McElroy. One of Fletcher's
children testified that after McElroy was on the ground,
Fletcher approached her and shot her in the head. The
eyewitness testimony was consistent with the testimony of the
medical examiner, who testified that McElroy sustained
gunshot wounds to her neck, leg, and head, and that the shot
to McElroy's head came from behind and at a downward
angle. The evidence was sufficient to allow the jury to reach
its conclusion without resorting to speculation or
conjecture, and the trial court did not err in denying
Fletcher's motions for a directed verdict.
conclusion that substantial evidence supports the jury's
verdict necessarily means that Fletcher cannot prevail on his
second point in which he argues that the trial court was
without jurisdiction to impose a sentence of life
imprisonment without parole because the State failed to prove
premeditation and deliberation. For offenders over the age of
eighteen, capital murder is punishable by death or life
imprisonment without parole. Ark. Code. Ann. §
5-10-101(c)(1). Because the evidence was sufficient to
establish the premeditation and deliberation required to
convict Fletcher of capital murder, and because the sentence
he received is provided for by statute, the trial court did
not exceed its authority in sentencing Fletcher to life
imprisonment without parole.