Wednesday, December 07, 2011

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville defendant awaits trial

Special to The Leader

Ronald Dean Charles, 33, is expected to be the star witness in August against his former co-defendant, Troy Allen Crook of Jacksonville.

Charles last week pleaded guilty to two murders in Faulkner County and one in Pulaski County in exchange for three concurrent life sentences.

The state is seeking the death penalty when Crook, 32, stands trial on two counts of capital murder in the April 9, 2008, beating deaths of cousins Bobby Don Brock, 45, and Lonnie Franklin Brock, 62, in rural Faulkner County near Vilonia, according to Faulkner County Prosecutor Cody Hiland.

The deaths occurred during a robbery with firearms among the items taken.

Charles, a Cabot resident raised in Jacksonville, pleaded guilty Nov. 28 to first-degree murder of both Brocks and a day later in Pulaski County, to the murder of Sandra Givens. One of the conditions of the plea bargain requires Charles to testify truthfully in Crook’s trial, Hiland said Tuesday.

Charles is in the Pulaski County Detention Center awaiting transfer to the Department of Correction to begin a life sentence, according to Lt. Carl Minden, sheriff’s office spokesman.

In exchange for guilty pleas to reduced first-degree murder charges and his agreement to testify against Crook, Charles avoided a possible death penalty.

Charles had been in the Faulkner County Jail awaiting trial for the deaths of the Brocks when he told investigators about his part in killing Givens, whom he knew only as Cassandra, but whose picture he identified from a photo lineup, according to Pulaski County deputy prosecutor Marianne Satterfield.

Givens, the 32-year-old mother of two from White County, had been missing for about a year when Charles led police to a shallow grave outside Wright’s Cabinet Shop in a wooded area off Corey Drive at the Jacksonville industrial park. She was identified from dental records.

Charles also told investigators of another body in northern Pulaski County off Ann Lane. But the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, aided by cadaver dogs, called off the search after two days.

Charles also told police at the time that he was responsible for killing about 15 other women — prostitutes — in neighboring states over about three years, but no other victims were ever found.

In connection with the deaths of the Brocks, both Charles and Crook were charged in Faulkner County with two counts of capital murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of theft of property and two counts of being felons in possession of firearms.

George Allen Smith had also been charged in connection with Given’s death. But when Charles was temporarily found to be unfit to stand trial by way of mental defect, the charge against Smith was dropped.

Charles’ testimony would have been the only evidence against Smith, according to Satterfield, other than the fact that Smith was one of several Wright Cabinet Shop employees who knew how to get in to the building, where the murder occurred.

Charles said he, Smith and Givens smoked crack before he smashed her head with a pipe wrench.

Charles told police the wrench was hidden in a vat of oil, and Satterfield said officers found it there.

The cause of death was ruled blunt force trauma, Satterfield said.

Charles said he was hearing voices at the time of the murder.

He also told prosecutors and the court that he chopped Givens’ legs and bent them backward so the body would fit in a short, shallow grave.

Hiland couldn’t give much information about the murders of the Brocks, he said Tuesday, since Crook’s trial is still pending.

He did say they were beaten to death with a tractor part or accessory.

Crook is awaiting trial in the Faulkner County Jail, the prosecutor said. “We look forward to an August trial date,” he added.

Both men have prior records, Charles’ stretching back to a 1995 Pulaski County conviction for two counts of commercial burglary and two counts of theft of property. He was 18 at the time and was sentenced to two years in prison.

In 1999, he was sentenced to six years for residential burglary and theft of property.

Crook was convicted in Pulaski County for residential burglary in 2000. His probation was revoked in 2001 and he was convicted in 2006 of fraudulent use of a credit card.