Three accused murderers who appeared in White County Circuit Court this week will be appointed public defenders.
Becky McCoy, the 17th Judicial District prosecuting attorney, said it was not known who their representation would be, but “the public defender’s commission will appoint or contract with attorneys” for Jason Levi Baxter, 24, of Kensett, Christopher S. Brown, 23, of Romance and Tara E. Wilhite, 32, of North Little Rock.
All three are scheduled to return to court Sept. 1 after making plea and arraignment appearances Tuesday.
Baxter is charged with class Y felony capital murder in the May 14 shooting death of 77-year-old Julius Williams Jr. of Kensett. Brown and Wilhite are charged with class Y felony capital murder, class C felony theft of property and class D felony tampering with physical evidence in the March 28 shooting death of Charles Hogue, a 73-year-old Romance man.
Williams Jr. was found dead in his home on SE Second Street from “a gunshot wound to the right side of his face” around 3:30 p.m. May 14 when Kensett officers conducted “a welfare check,” according to the affidavit written by Detective Mary Rudesill.
“His family made the request after seeing shattered glass on the ground near a broken window and being unable to make contact with him at the door,” Rudesill wrote.
Officers reportedly knocked on the door and “discovered it was opened.” Williams was found “unresponsive in the doorway.”
Two witnesses led to Baxter being developed as a suspect, Rudesill wrote. They reportedly said “they heard a gunshot” around 1 p.m. the previous day, then saw a white male “running from the area of the victim’s house.”
Baxter “admitted to shooting” Williams, Rudesill wrote, but said they did not have “any type of confrontation.” He reportedly said Williams was unarmed at the time and he shot the victim “’right in the eye’ when he answered the door.”
A Lorcin .380-caliber handgun reportedly was used, and Baxter said he had thrown it into the woods behind his residence. It was recovered after Baxter “willingly agreed to show officers where the gun had been discarded,” Rudesill wrote.
Brown reportedly admitted May 21 to shooting Hogue in the back of his head.
He told detectives with the White County Sheriff’s Office that he used “a firearm stolen from inside the victim’s residence,” Detective Joshua Biviano wrote in the affidavit. “Brown also stated he stole additional property belonging to Mr. Hogue,” which included a vehicle that had led to deputies finding Hogue’s body.
Deputies had been called March 28 to an abandoned vehicle at 1932 Arkansas Highway 5 in Romance, which resulted in them going to the owner’sresidence on Skyview Circle. They found Hogue’s body in the backyard, according to the sheriff’s office, with a single gunshot wound to the back of his head.
Brown reportedly said that he fled the scene in Hogue’s vehicle before abandoning it in a “manner consistent with an attempt to conceal its location.”
“He then admitted to having disposed of evidence in a creek behind his residence on Sagebrush Lane,” Biviano wrote.
After Brown agreed to show detectives the location, they and the sheriff’s office’s dive team recovered “several items identified as Mr. Hogue’s property, including a firearm known to have belonged to the victim.
Wilhite provided information to detectives May 20 that “led to the arrest” of Brown.
Detectives made contact with Wilhite during the investigation and she provided a statement at the North Little Rock Police Department, Biviano wrote. She was interviewed again May 22 and “admitted to her involvement in the events that resulted in the murder.” She reportedly said she was not only present but “an active participant” when Hogue’s vehicle was stolen and disposed of.
The two murders are among five that have been committed in the county this year, including the death of 5-year-old AraBella Pedigo on June 16 in Bald Knob. Bella was reportedly murdered by her father, William Pedigo, who was found later in “a remote area of the county” and appeared to have overdosed to commit suicide, according to the sheriff’s office.
Earlier this month, Robert Hurd, 18, of Searcy and Hunter Dean Bishop, 26, of Searcy appeared in court for plea and arraignment on capital murder charges and were appointed attorneys. Hurd, accused in the April 29 shooting death of 38-year-old Eric Kalas of Searcy on Randall Drive, is set to return to court Aug. 5. So is Bishop, accused in the May 15 shooting death of 23-year-old Maddison Clevenger on North Horton Street.