FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 60CR-17-534]
HONORABLE HERBERT WRIGHT, JUDGE
William R. Simpson, Jr., Public Defender, by: Clint Miller,
Dep. Public Defender, for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Jason Michael Johnson,
Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
DAN KEMP, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Chris Arnold appeals an order of the Pulaski County Circuit
Court convicting him of the first-degree murder of
eighty-five-year-old Maureen Jones ("Maureen") and
sentencing him to a term of life imprisonment. For reversal,
Arnold argues that the circuit court erred in denying his
motion for directed verdict because substantial evidence did
not support the jury's verdict that he committed the
offense. We affirm.
Arnold ("Pauline"), Arnold's mother and
Maureen's friend, regularly attended a bible study at
Indianhead Baptist Church in Sherwood on Wednesday nights.
Pauline stated that she and Maureen sat together at the bible
study on Wednesday, November 30, 2016, and then Maureen
headed home. The next morning, Pauline received a call from
Lois Olsen ("Lois"), the church secretary, because
Maureen had not attended a church breakfast meeting. Pauline
proceeded to Maureen's home to check on her. When Pauline
arrived at the residence, she entered through an unlocked
back door and found Maureen in the hallway lying face down
and partially clothed with a feminine-hygiene pad between her
legs. Pauline stated that Maureen's body felt cold, and
she called 911. Lois and Gary Brewer ("Gary") also
entered the home. Pauline and Gary covered Maureen with a
blanket because "she [wasn't] decent."
from the Sherwood Police Department were dispatched to the
victim's home to investigate a homicide. Detective Kisha
Slaton testified at a pretrial hearing that Pauline stated,
"Well, my son was just over here [at the house fishing]
last night, and he didn't say there was anything wrong
with her." Detective Slaton asked Pauline to call Arnold
and then told Arnold to meet the officers at the police
department for an interview. Emergency personnel later
arrived and pronounced Maureen dead at the scene. Officers
observed bruising, blood, and possible trauma to
Maureen's face. A dark-colored scarf was tied around her
neck, and her undergarments were found lying approximately
five feet away. Officers also noticed a chemical odor
consistent with bleach. They retrieved an off-white piece of
a latex glove and a small blue piece of plastic and sent the
two objects to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory for
testing. An autopsy revealed that Maureen's cause of
death was ligature strangulation. Subsequent testing revealed
that Arnold's DNA was present on both of Maureen's
hands. Tests also confirmed the presence of Arnold's DNA
on the pieces of latex glove and plastic.
Slaton and Detective Frank Spence interviewed Arnold at the
Sherwood Police Department. In a statement to police, Arnold
related that Maureen had allowed him to use her flat-bottomed
boat and that he had been fishing at her house on the night
of the murder. Arnold stated that he had seen Maureen feed
her cats and then fall down the back-porch steps. He also
stated that her face was bleeding and that he picked her up,
carried her onto the porch, and placed her in front of a
chair so that she could sit down. He claimed that Maureen
slapped him and said, "[Y]ou don't need to do this.
I don't need help[.]" According to Arnold, Maureen
walked into the house and began arguing with someone. He told
the officer, "[S]he was arguing with somebody, I
don't know who the hell it was. But I told Maureen I was
getting the hell out of there because she was getting
February 13, 2017, the State filed a felony information
charging Arnold with one count of capital murder for
Maureen's death. Following a two-day jury trial in
September 2017, the jury convicted Arnold of the
lesser-included offense of first-degree murder and sentenced
him to a term of life imprisonment in the Arkansas Department
of Correction. He timely filed his notice of appeal.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
sole point on appeal is that the circuit court erred in
denying his motion for directed verdict. Specifically, Arnold
does not dispute the elements of the first-degree-murder
offense, as defined in Arkansas Code Annotated section
5-10-102(a)(2) (Supp. 2017). He challenges the sufficiency of
the DNA evidence that was used to prove his identity as the
person who purposely caused Maureen's death. He concedes
that he was at Maureen's home on the night of the murder
but contends that the State's evidence was purely
circumstantial because his DNA was only on the victim's
hands and on the two objects found at the scene--a portion of
a latex glove and a piece of plastic.
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. 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.
court makes no distinction between circumstantial and direct
evidence when reviewing for sufficiency of the evidence.
Williams v. State, 338 Ark. 97, 991 S.W.2d 565
(1999). Circumstantial evidence may provide a basis to
support a conviction, but it must be consistent with the
defendant's guilt and inconsistent with any other
reasonable conclusion. Moore v. State, 372 Ark. 579,
279 S.W.3d 69 (2008). Whether the evidence excludes every
other hypothesis is left for the jury to decide. Id.