FROM THE HOT SPRING COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 30CR-16-71]
HONORABLE EDDY EASLEY, JUDGE
Brannon Sloan, Jr., for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Michael A. Hylden, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellee.
R. BAKER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE
John Drennan was convicted by a Hot Spring County Circuit
Court jury of first-degree murder and sentenced to life
imprisonment. On appeal, Drennan argues that (1) the circuit
court abused its discretion by excluding a toxicology report
showing controlled substances in the victim's body; and
(2) there was insufficient evidence to convict him of
first-degree murder. Because this is a criminal appeal in
which life imprisonment has been imposed, this court has
jurisdiction pursuant to Arkansas Supreme Court Rule
1-2(a)(2). We affirm.
October 12, 2015, Drennan, his wife Amber, and her two
children were traveling on Highway 9 in Hot Spring County.
Amber was driving the vehicle, Drennan was in the
front-passenger seat, and Amber's two children, C.E. and
J.E., were in the back seat. At approximately 4:00 p.m.,
Drennan discharged a firearm inside the vehicle, fatally
trial, Gavin Alston testified that prior to the shooting, he
and his friend Michael Hoffman were traveling down Highway 9
to go hunting. Alston testified that as he topped a hill, he
could see a man and a woman standing on the edge of his lane
of the highway and that they were fighting. Alston testified
that the man was "pushing on the woman a little
bit." Alston further testified that he saw two children
in the ditch watching the man and the woman fight. Alston
kept driving as Hoffman called 911.
testified that he was a passenger in Alston's vehicle and
the two were going deer hunting. As Alston and Hoffman topped
a hill on Highway 9, Hoffman saw a man and a woman standing
in the road. Hoffman saw the man push the woman in her chest
area. Hoffman further testified that he saw a vehicle in the
ditch and two little boys standing beside the vehicle.
Hoffman testified that he called 911. Hoffman's 911 call
was played for the jury. In the recording, Hoffman reported
that he thought there had been a wreck on Highway 9.
Amber's son, was eight years old at the time of trial. He
testified that on the day of the shooting, he had ridden the
school bus from school. He then got into the vehicle with his
mother, Amber, and his stepfather, Drennan. C.E. testified
that Amber was driving and that Drennan was in the
front-passenger seat with a gun in his lap. C.E. testified
that he was seated behind Drennan and that C.E.'s
brother, J.E., was seated behind Amber. While they were
driving down the road, one of the tires on the vehicle went
flat, and the vehicle ran off the road. C.E. testified that
at one point, Drennan and Amber jumped out of the vehicle
while it was still moving. The vehicle ultimately stopped
when it ran into the ditch. Drennan and Amber got back into
the vehicle and began driving again. C.E. testified that at
another point while Amber was driving, Drennan pointed the
gun toward the floor, "pretty much at my mom's
leg." Amber pushed the gun away so "she
wouldn't get [shot]." C.E. testified that Drennan
told Amber twice to stop the vehicle, and both times Amber
said no. C.E. testified that after Drennan asked Amber to
stop for the second time, he pointed the gun at Amber and
pulled the trigger. C.E. testified that he saw Drennan pull
the trigger and the bullet went into Amber's neck. C.E.
further testified that as the vehicle was coming to a stop,
Drennan jumped out and started shooting at a blue truck and
then ran off into the woods.
Amber's other son, was seven years old at the time of
trial. He testified that on the day of the shooting, he rode
with his mother and Drennan to pick up C.E. from the bus
stop. After picking up C.E., and as the family was driving
down the road, one of the tires went flat and the vehicle ran
into the ditch. J.E. testified that Amber and Drennan then
got out of the car, and Drennan chased Amber with a long gun.
J.E. recalled Amber telling Drennan to "stop," and
then Amber and Drennan returned to the vehicle. With regard
to the location of the gun, J.E. testified that the gun was
in Drennan's lap, inside a pair of blue jeans that
Drennan was holding, with the barrel pointing outside
"where the leg goes through." J.E. testified that
Drennan told Amber that he loved her and then raised the gun
out of his lap and shot her with the gun still inside the
jeans. J.E. testified that Drennan shot at a blue diesel
truck before he ran into the woods.
Jennifer Forsyth, Assistant Chief Medical Examiner at the
Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, testified that she performed
the autopsy on Amber. Dr. Forsyth testified that Amber had a
gunshot wound to her head and that the entrance wound was
located on Amber's right cheek, next to her ear, and the
large exit wound was located on the back of her head.
Gardner testified that on the day of the shooting, as he was
heading home on Highway 9, he passed a vehicle with its
passenger side "dragging the ground, it looked like,
sparks flying, smoke everywhere[.]" He testified that
after he passed the vehicle, he thought, "Well, let me
go back and see if I can help these people." Gardner
turned around and saw a terrified, frantic lady driving the
vehicle. Gardner testified that after he saw the lady's
arms flailing around, he got a "real bad feeling."
Gardner turned his car back around, pulled off the highway,
and got out his cell phone with the intent to call 911.
However, he did not have cell phone service. Gardner
testified that when he looked up, he saw a man with a gun.
The gun had something wrapped around it, but Gardner
testified that he knew in his heart "that [it was] a
gun." Gardner lay down in his seat and then heard a
bullet hit his truck. Gardner then looked back up and saw two
little boys standing where the man had been standing. Gardner
testified that he immediately drove to the waste station.
There, he asked an employee to call 911. With regard to the
condition of his truck, Gardner testified that steam was
blowing everywhere because a bullet had gone through his
Overton testified that on the day of the shooting, as he was
driving down Highway 9 on his way home from work, he observed
two boys standing in the middle of the road. Overton pulled
over and got the boys out of the road. Overton testified that
the boys told Overton that "momma had a wreck." As
Overton walked over to check on the boys' mother, he
heard two or three rifle shots that came from the woods
approximately fifty yards away.
Rhodes, a special agent with the criminal investigation
division of the Arkansas State Police, testified that he took
pictures of the crime scene area. Rhodes testified regarding
the evidence collected at the crime scene. Specifically,
Rhodes testified that the jeans found at the scene appeared
to be new because there was still a sticker on them. Rhodes
also testified that the crime lab noted tears and dark
discoloration on the jeans. Rhodes testified that the dark
discoloration appeared to be gun residue. Rhodes testified
that based on the condition of the jeans, it was possible
that the pants could have been wrapped over the firearm and
the firearm, could have been fired from inside the jeans.
Ford, a special-response-team agent with Arkansas Community
Correction, testified that he was notified that authorities
were searching for Drennan in the woods on Highway 9 just
outside Malvern. Ford specializes in fugitive apprehension.
Ford testified that ...