UPDATE: Jury ends deliberations for tonight in Lavinda Counce mu - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

UPDATE: Jury ends deliberations for tonight in Lavinda Counce murder trial

(Source: Craighead County Sheriff's Department) (Source: Craighead County Sheriff's Department)
(Source: KAIT) (Source: KAIT)
JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -

Just before 9:30 p.m., the jury was called back into the courtroom and asked if they wanted to be done for the night or keep trying to work out the verdict. 

The jurors decided to continue deliberating. 

After 9 and a half hours, around 10:45 p.m., the jury decided to leave for the night and resume deliberations Friday morning. 

Deliberations will continue starting at 8:15 a.m.


The Lavinda Counce murder trial started Monday, Sept. 26. Region 8 News is in the courtroom following the proceedings:

After closing arguments Thursday morning, the jury started deliberations.

The state gave its closing argument first. DeProw gave the jury five things to remember.

He said the essence of the case was in the black bag, white rag, NEA Baptist video, Korre Phillips, and the confession video.

DeProw told the jury this is all the critical evidence, and while he knows the defense is throwing out suggestions and ideas for what could have happened, there is no evidence of those theories.

He used Tarver’s quotes from the confession video throughout his closing.

The state also reverted back to the evidence of Tarver’s DNA found on the white rag and the rope with red fibers behind Tarver’s home matching the rope inside the black bag and found on Bridger road.

DeProw encouraged the jury to watch the confession video again and make a determination if Tarver’s testimony in court makes sense.

The defense then had an opportunity to speak to the jury.

Miller started his closing with the statement, “Please don’t hurt my wife.” Miller said that’s what Tarver told police and where his state of mind was when he was arrested.

Miller called this a bizarre case. He also showed several receipts showing the Tarver’s had bought things for a birthday party the weekend of the murder.

The defense questioned how Tarver could have possibly killed Counce and acted calm throughout the weekend.

Miller told the jury it’s their job to decide if witnesses are credible. He spent the majority of his close recounting past testimony from the trial.

He focused on Korre Phillips and said he had a strange reaction to law enforcement. Miller said Phillips is not telling the truth.

He also spoke about the lack of physical evidence and the possibility of the DNA evidence being contaminated.

Miller finished by telling the jury this is a decision they can’t take back.

Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington then gave the final close for the state.

The state is allowed the last word because they have the burden of proof.

Ellington said the confession the jury sees from Tarver is not fake. He said there is no way Roland could have given Tarver so many details in a short amount of time.

The state also reverted back to previous trial hearings months ago. Ellington said Tarver never mentioned in those hearings that he was threatened or influenced to confess.

Ellington said Tarver’s family said this action would be out of character and wearing jeans and a hoodie would be out of character.

The state said yes that would be out of character, but Tarver said in his confession he was dressed in a costume and acting as a certain character.

Ellington said the most frightening thing to him is while the defense is trying to point the finger at Phillips, it’s clear Tarver would have gotten away with this had he not asked Phillips for a ride that day.

That ended closing statements. The jury was then taken out of the courtroom to deliberate. 


The defense began its portion of the trial on Wednesday.

The state rested its case after recalling Korre Phillips to the stand to show video of him leaving the Hays grocery store at 12:56 p.m.

The video was used to demonstrate Phillips couldn’t have left Hays and made it to NEA Baptist by 1 p.m. on July 3, 2015.

The defense crossed by making it clear you cannot see what car Phillips was driving in the video.

Before calling any witnesses, Miller moved for a directed verdict on all charges and to suppress evidence from the search warrant.

Miller argued there was lack of evidence to support the charges, and he said the search warrant was illegal.

All motions were denied by Judge Cindy Thyer except for one.

Judge Thyer did give a directed verdict for the aggravated robbery charge. She said, by definition and based on evidence presented, Tarver did not commit aggravated robbery.

That still leaves six charges for the jury to decide on.

The defense’s first witness was Dennis Tarver. He is the father of Richard Jordon Tarver.

Dennis described his son’s upbringing and education background. Tarver received a GED and has worked a couple of full time jobs.

Dennis did say his son lacks motivation and work ethic.

Tarver’s father said he saw his son on Thursday, July 1. Dennis went out of town over the weekend and didn’t see him again until Monday, July 6, 2015.

Dennis told the defense Tarver seemed normal when he saw him on Monday. They did discuss Counce’s disappearance and read about it daily.

In the state’s cross examination, Dennis told DeProw Tarver has no mental, emotional, or physical disabilities.

Dennis said Tarver was needed at home to help his wife with their two children. Dennis also said he and his wife give Tarver money on a regular basis.

Jamie Platts, Tarver’s mother-in-law, was the next witness.

She explained her daughter Samantha, Tarver’s wife, has medical issues. Samantha is unable to work so Tarver must be home to help her.

Platts described Tarver as the best son-in-law she could ask for her daughter.

Platts stated in her testimony that she saw Tarver on July 3, 2015, around 1 p.m. Platts said she was dropping the Tarver’s eldest daughter off at their home in Bay.

The defense submitted a phone record as evidence that Platts called her daughter at 12:38 p.m. on July 3.

She said she arrived at their home 10 to 15 minutes later. That is when she saw Tarver walking outside his home.

Platts said she saw Tarver again on Sunday, July 5, at her granddaughter’s birthday party, and Tarver acted normal.

DeProw then asked Platts several questions including what she thought about Tarver’s DNA being found on a wash cloth inside Counce’s home.

Platts’ answer was Tarver sweats a lot and has a lot of wash clothes around.

The state also asked how she felt about Tarver’s confession.

Platts said Tarver confessed because he was scared for this wife. When asked if she saw or heard police threaten her daughter, she said no.

However, when Miller asked Platts if she heard police threaten to arrest Samantha, Platts said yes. 

After a lunch recess, Samantha Tarver, Richard Tarver's wife, took the stand to testify. 

She explained she had many health issues and spent most of her time in bed. 

She said because of these health issues, she was unable to hold a job. 

On July 2, Samantha said her and Richard's about 7-month-old child kept them up throughout the night. 

She said she and Richard slept in until about 1 p.m. July 3. 

Her explanation for waking up at that time was her mother called to drop off their other daughter. 

Samantha told the jury Richard then went outside to mow the lawn to prepare for their daughter's birthday party on Sunday. 

She said her husband did sweat a lot and many times she would take a washrag outside to him.

She did say Richard would often leave those washrags outside or under their carport. 

The only people Samantha Tarver said who visited them that day was her mother. 

She said Korre Phillips never came over like he said he did and like Tarver said in his confession video.

On July 17, Samantha said she and Richard were in the back sleeping when they heard a banging at their front door. 

She said she answered the door to guns pointed in her face. 

She explained she had her baby in her hands and got down on the ground to protect her. 

Samantha said she heard Richard ask police officers to not harm her or their baby. 

She said then she was taken outside, placed in handcuffs, and threatened to be taken to jail.

When she found out why police were there, she said she told them what they did on July 3. 

She described the officers as rude and that they watched her change clothes when she went back inside. 

Samantha Tarver also said that police told her they could come back for her at any time.

During cross-examination, she told the jury that she knew her husband had a gun but thought he got rid of it. 

She explained she was on 4 different types of medication at the time and spent a lot of time in bed. 

When asked about the rain that day, she said their yard was dry enough to mow. 

She said she thought Richard confessed to the crime to protect her. 

After Samantha Tarver left the stand, her husband and the man accused of the murder, Richard Tarver testified. 

While on the stand, Tarver repeated what his wife said about July 2 and 3. 

He said their baby was teething and kept them up late, so they slept in until about 1 p.m. on Friday. 

He said he attempted to mow the yard but the ground was still too wet. 

Instead, he said he just picked up sticks around the yard. 

Tarver said he and his family did go shopping that day but used money from his parents and daughter and some that he saved up. 

He said he never saw Korre Phillps that day, did not take money from Lavinda Counce, nor did he go to the Hilltop area. 

On the night he was arrested, Tarver repeated again what his wife said. 

He said they heard banging on the door after waking up, his wife answered, and then went to the ground. 

He explained that he said "I know, I know" because he knew to get on the ground. 

Tarver said from where he was standing behind his wife, it looked like she had been pushed out of the way. 

He said Captain Justin Rolland with the Craighead County Sheriff's Department took him outside and they eventually ended up in a white SUV together. 

While in the vehicle, Tarver said Rolland read him his rights and also threatened him. 

He said he was told his baby would be taken by DHS and his wife would go to jail. 

Also while in the vehicle, Tarver said Rolland gave him information about the case so he could repeat it during a confession. 

He said his biggest concern was his family. 

During the interview at the Craighead County Sheriff's Department, Tarver said he lied about killing Counce. 

He said Rolland wanted to hear a specific thing, so he said it. 

He explained Rolland had the power to do what he wanted and did not want his wife separated from his baby.

When asked about his gun, Tarver said he knew the serial number was defaced. 

Tarver said he tried to sell it but nobody was interested because of the serial number. 

He said Korre Phillips did look at the gun but did not buy it. 

Tarver said he considered Rolland a "monster" for coming into his home and accusing him of the murder. 

He said during the interview, he thought Rolland was trying to implicate his wife in the crime.

During cross-examination, the prosecution discussed Tarver's testimony from a pre-trial.

The prosecution showed Tarver that he said he got his information about the case from other news sources. 

Tarver said he did not mention Korre Phillips at that time because his wife could still be arrested.

He said again that many of the things he said during his confession were not true and that he made up most of it. 

Tarver said he knew about Counce's cane from Phillips' girlfriend.

Tarver added he came up with finding the $50 bill in Counce's purse. 

He also said the comment about wanting to know what it was like to kill a person was something that just came out during the confession.

Tarver said the comment about shooting Counce in the head was just something he had seen in movies. 

He explained the reason for his comments were to protect his family and that he was not thinking about the Counce family at that time. 

Some of the things he said Rolland told him about the case included what was in Counce's purse in her trunk, where Phillips was on July 3, and about the surveillance footage from NEA Baptist Hospital.

The defense asked a few more questions after the prosecution. 

During that questioning, Tarver said his wife went to NEA Baptist for treatment. 

He said the route he told police in his confession was the same route they took to get to the hospital. 

The defense rested and court is scheduled to meet again Thursday morning with motions at 9 and the jury at 9:30.


The state called two more witnesses Tuesday morning.

Lieutenant Aaron Davis, Craighead County Sheriff’s Department, participated in serving the search warrant at Tarver’s home.

He recounted Tarver’s confession in court.

Davis first described entering Tarver’s home. Tarver was on the ground, and Davis said Tarver’s wife had no reaction or expression on her face.

After Tarver was taken into custody, Davis drove Tarver to the Craighead County Sheriff’s Department with Captain Justin Roland.

Davis said Tarver was silent the entire ride. There was no discussion with him until they got to the interview room at the sheriff’s department.

After Tarver was read his rights, Davis said he answered many of his and Roland’s questions.

Tarver told Davis his selection of Counce was random, and he didn’t know much about her.

Davis said Tarver’s plan was to leave Counce’s car at NEA Baptist and walk home to Bay. He said he chose NEA Baptist because he wanted to leave the car in an obvious place.

Tarver had also considered leaving it at the mall or Walmart, according to Davis.

In the interview, Tarver said he simply gave Counce commands and she did as he said. Tarver said at one point Counce did try to walk away and Tarver told her to stop.

When asked why he didn’t kill her in her home, Davis said Tarver claimed he took Counce to the cornfield because he never shot the gun before and was worried about the noise it would make.

Davis also asked him about the black bag. Tarver told Davis he didn’t remember having the bag but if he did it was a part of his costume as a survivor in the apocalypse.

The lieutenant said Tarver even demonstrated how he killed Counce. According to the testimony, Tarver helped Counce out of the trunk of her car and told her to walk toward the field.

She followed his order and he shot her in the head. Davis said Tarver demonstrated the angle of the shot on Roland by making a gun with his hand.

Davis said Tarver told Roland he was much taller than Counce so Roland bent down so Tarver could properly demonstrate.

During the interview, Davis said Tarver had a lack of emotion, was expressionless, and didn’t ask about where his wife and child were.

As far as why he killed Counce, Davis said Tarver never gave an answer. Davis said Tarver never said he was sorry and when asked how he felt after killing Counce, Tarver said he felt better.

The defense cross-examined Davis by asking him about his contact with Korre Phillips.

Miller questioned testimony Phillips gave to Davis regarding the last time he had talked to Tarver and asked if the Phillips family had time to discuss the sheriff’s department’s interest in this case before giving a formal statement.

Davis said he didn’t know.

Miller then reviewed the previous statements Davis made in his testimony including Tarver saying he was going to walk back to Bay after leaving Counce’s car at NEA Baptist.

Miller said Tarver is not in great shape and doesn’t walk often.

Korre Phillips was the other witness called to the stand Tuesday morning.

He recounted what he did on July 3. Phillips told the state he went and bought fireworks then went to Hays to buy groceries for a cookout.

When at Hays, Phillips said he received a call that Tarver was at his home.

Phillips said Tarver told him he had been at NEA Baptist visiting a friend and needed a ride home.

Phillips said he had nothing to do with Counce’s murder and knew nothing about it when he gave Tarver a ride to Bay.

In the cross-examination, Miller asked Phillips if someone else could have used his debit card at Hays to look like he was there. Phillips said no.

Miller asked Phillips about knowing Tarver’s wife and possibly being jealous of their relationship along with questioning his truthfulness about statements made about Tarver.

Phillips was asked to identify the difference in tools that belonged to Tarver with general tools, and Phillips said he couldn’t tell a difference.

The state then made it clear Tarver told the investigators Phillips was not involved in the Counce murder nor did Phillips know about it when he drove Tarver home. 

Captain Justin Rolland took the stand after a lunch recess. 

He said he assisted in the case and first started working it on July 3. 

Rolland said Sheriff Marty Boyd called him to inform him of a possible missing person in Bay. 

He hoped the case would just be a missing person but that changed on July 12. 

That was the day Counce's body was found. 

With a confirmed homicide, Rolland explained that was also the day their investigation changed.

Rolland was another investigator who talked to the Phillips family on Bridger Road. 

On July 17, Rolland said Korre Phillips admitted to giving Tarver a ride and asked him to come to the sheriff's department. 

Based on information given by Korre Phillips, Rolland said they received a search warrant. 

He explained to the jury that they were in a hurry because they did not want Phillips to tell Tarver what he told investigators. 

Rolland said they planned to knock on Tarver's door to get consent to search the home. 

After they knocked and no one answered the door, Rolland said they attempted to force entry into the home. 

He said Tarver then opened the door and asked them not to harm his wife or child. 

Rolland said Tarver complied with orders and got on the ground while he held him at gunpoint. 

After a few minutes of other officers clearing the home, Rolland said he cuffed Tarver and brought him outside to a vehicle. 

Rolland said he read Tarver his rights inside the vehicle. 

He said at first, Tarver denied any involvement with the incident but later changed his statement to his wife did not have any involvement. 

Rolland said when he asked Tarver what happened,  he said he took her from the home and dropped her off in the cornfield. 

He explained that he, Tarver and Davis then went to the sheriff's department for further questions. 

When asked about Tarver's demeanor in the vehicle, Rolland said he was calm and looked like the world had been lifted from his shoulders. 

The prosecution then showed a video involving Rolland, Tarver, and Davis where Tarver confessed to killing Counce. 

In the video, Tarver explained that he went to Counce's home, knocked on the door, and just walked in. 

 He told investigators in the video that he gave Counce directions, which she followed. 

Tarver also said in the video that he put Counce in the trunk of her car and drove to a cornfield. 

He said in the video that he got her out, pointed at the corn, and shot Counce as she was walking.

When investigators asked him in the video why he did it, Tarver replied by saying he wanted to know what it was like to kill a human. 

In the video, Tarver said he watched The Walking Dead and thought an elderly person was as close as he was going to get to a zombie.

When investigators asked him about the black bag in the video, Tarver said it was an accessory to his survivor outfit. 

Tarver also told investigators in the video that robbery was not his motivation and the money he took was a bonus. 

Tarver explained he was worried about the sound of the gun because he had never fired a gun before. 

He also mentioned that he had gone to a doctor and received depression pill a few weeks before the interview.

Tarver said he felt better after the shooting because he had gotten it out of his system. 

After the first video, the prosecution showed a second video that was taken July 17. 

In that video, Rolland showed Tarver photos of the black bag and it's contents. 

Tarver claimed a few of the items but not all of them. 

After the second video, Rolland said Tarver told him that he used some of the money he took from Counce at Walmart for items to use during his daughter's birthday party. 

During cross-examination, the defense asked again what Tarver's first words were to Rolland. 

The defense continued to talk about Korre Phillips and how he denied being the person in surveillance video from Hay's earlier in court. 

Rolland said he thought Phillips was mistaken because they confirmed that Phillips was in Hay's during their investigation.

The defense then brought up a comment that Phillips made while at the sheriff's department. 

They said he denied making a comment about one of the investigator's shot glasses in his office that had a zombie on it. 

Rolland did recall that comment being discussed on July 17. 

The defense then had Rolland reiterate that they received a search warrant for Tarver's home based off of information given by Phillips.

When asked about the conversation between Tarver and Rolland in the vehicle outside of Tarver's home, Rolland said there were no other witnesses to hear Tarver's verbal acknowledgments to his rights. 

Rolland told the defense that he did not threaten Tarver's family at all. 

He explained that he reassured Tarver that his family was at home in the second video because of the comment Tarver made when they first made entry into his home. 

Rolland said he did not further investigate the Phillips family or their friend James Henry after Tarver's arrest. 

Before Rolland left the stand, the prosecution asked a few more questions. 

Rolland said he did state again in the first video to Tarver that he had read him his rights before they arrived at the sheriff's department. 

He also confirmed that Tarver corroborated everything Korre Phillips told them when they interviewed him earlier that day. 

The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning at 9,


Week two of the Lavinda Counce murder trial continued Monday.

Two more witnesses took the stand Monday morning.

Dr. Frank Perettie, medical examiner for the Arkansas State Crime Lab, performed the autopsy on Counce’s body.

He described photos of Counce’s remains including the gunshot wound to her head and the decomposition of the body.

Dr. Perettie had to explain where certain body parts were because it was difficult to distinguish some parts due to maggots eating away at her body along with the decomposition of skin.

With the gunshot wound, Dr. Perettie said there was evidence of a blunt force head injury to the face. He said it appears she may have been struck in the face with an unknown object.

Detective Ron Richardson, Craighead County Sheriff’s Department, was recalled to the stand.

The state reviewed more evidence with Richardson including rope found off Bridger Road in Jonesboro similar to rope also found in a burn barrel at Tarver’s home.

Richardson also described the night they searched Tarver’s home and arrested him.

Richardson said no law enforcement member ever made threats to Tarver’s wife or child and when Tarver was asked if he knew why they were there he said “I know.”

The night of the search, Tarver confessed to the crime as well as telling Richardson where to find a gun.

The gun recovered in Tarver’s attic was presented in court to the jury. Its serial number was filed off.

Miller, Tarver’s attorney, then cross examined Richardson.

Miller had Richardson recount the investigation and explain the fact the court knows the last time Counce was heard from and when her car was found, but it doesn’t know when exactly Counce was killed.

The defense asked Richardson if they’d heard Tarver’s name until members of the Phillips family mentioned it.

Richardson said no. Miller said Tarver’s name was never mentioned in the investigation until people who live behind NEA Baptist, live off of Bridger Road, and know the Counce family mentioned it.

Miller made a mention of Korre Phillips, the man who said he drove Tarver home to Bay the day Counce went missing, also being obsessed with The Walking Dead but no further investigation was made into that family.

Beyond the interviews with Tarver and the Phillips family, Miller discussed the lack of physical evidence with Richardson.

Miller confirmed with Richardson that Tarver’s fingerprints were not found anywhere, and the only DNA evidence that links Tarver to the crime is the wash cloth inside the black bag found at Counce’s home.

There was also a footprint found at the scene that Richardson confirmed did not match Tarver’s shoe.

Richardson said there was not enough bullet fragments recovered to know if the bullet used to kill Counce came from Tarver’s gun.

The state then asked Richardson a few more questions.

DeProw focused on the fact that Richardson never had any suspicion of the Phillips in relation to this crime.

Richardson said no one in the Phillips family ever confessed to the crime, but Tarver did confess to the crime on two separate occasions.

It was also noted by the state that pet hair was found on the black bag in Counce’s home. Counce had no pets, but Tarver did have pets in his home.

Miller countered that statement by making Richardson aware that more than 50% of households in the United States have pets. 

The defense ended by asking Richardson if Tarver had any way of knowing how his wife and children were when he confessed.

Richardson said no he would not have known that they weren’t in custody. 

After the lunch recess, more employees with the Arkansas State Crime Lab took the stand.

Bobby Humphries examined shoes and an impression of a shoe print for the case. 

He said during his examination, he was unable to match the 3 pairs with the impression. 

Another employee analyzed fingerprints in the case. 

She said she analyzed 14 items but only found partial prints on a few items. 

She explained that a person can touch something and not leave a fingerprint.

At the end of her examination, she could not include or exclude anyone. 

She also said she never got to the point in her testing to compare Tarver's prints to the partials she found. 

A third employee with the lab was a firearms and tool mark examiner who tested a gun from Tarver's home.

She said the serial number on the gun was defaced but she was able to recover it. 

She tested small damaged copper jacket fragments with a bullet fired from the gun. 

The examiner told the jury that she was unable to rule in or out the gun because the jackets had similar class characteristics. 

During cross-examination, she said the firearm that fired the fragments was a common gun but she could not give the caliber of the fragments.

After the crime lab employees finished testifying, a man by the name of James Henry took the stand. 

Henry lived with James Phillips on Bridger Road in July 2015.

He said on July 3 a man came to the door asking for Phillips and Phillips' son.

Henry said he made a phone call to the son to see if the man could stay in the house.

After given approval, he said he let the man in but the man did not talk to him. 

When the son got home, he said the son took the man home. 

Henry said later, the investigators came by the home but did not inform them about the man. 

He said he did not remember until around July 17. 

The defense cross-examined Henry and asked about how much he knew about Counce. 

He said he found out about her a day or two after July 4 from the news. 

Henry also mentioned he, Phillips' son and Phillips were obsessed with the show The Walking Dead.

A Hay's Grocery Store manager took the stand after Henry. 

He explained that he supplied surveillance footage to the Craighead County Sheriff's Department from the store at their request.

The manager said there was a 15 minute difference on the time stamp in the video. 

He said this has been a problem for a while that they just recently fixed. 

The prosecution then called James Phillips to the stand. 

Phillips explained he lived in a trailer house on Bridger Road with his son, grandson, and friend James Henry. 

He said he has known Tarver since 1997 or 1998. 

Phillips said Tarver was one of his son's first friends when they moved to Bay. 

Phillips stressed that Tarver was like an adopted son to him.

He said on July 3, he was out with his son and grandson getting groceries and fireworks. 

He said he knew his son received a phone call and later found out Tarver was looking for a ride home. 

Phillips identified Tarver in the courtroom and from a photo. 

He said Tarver looked different in the photo but it was the same person.

Phillips continued to say investigators visited him on July 15 asking about any people that may have come by days before. 

He said at the time he did not think to mention Tarver because he did not see it as suspicious. 

Phillips said Tarver would come to his home all the time when he was younger and came over a lot when his wife got sick.

When cross-examined, Phillips told the jury that he knew Counce. 

He said he rented a home from Counce, who he thought highly of.

He first found out about Counce's disappearance on July 4 by watching the news. 

The defense told Phillips that in Richardson's visit to his home, he told the investigator that he lived alone. 

Phillips said that piece of information was misconstrued and that he was not trying to hide the fact that he lived with other people.

In all, Phillips said he talked with investigators on 3 different days. 

He thought it was odd that Tarver may have walked from the hospital to his home. 

He said that seemed out of character and even when he was younger, Tarver liked to drive. 

Before he left the stand, Phillips said neither he nor his son had anything to do with Counce's disappearance and that he was not trying to cover for Tarver. 

The last witness of the day was Keith Bowers, a deputy with the CCSD. 

In July 2015, Bowers was a transport officer who transported evidence from the case. 

He said he did not pack the items or touch them when they were in his vehicle. 

Bowers said he transported them to the state crime lab and came back to Jonesboro. 

Court is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning at 9. 


Witness testimony continued Friday in the Counce murder trial. 

Etter's testimony continued from Thursday afternoon. He briefly spoke about video surveillance he received from NEA Baptist and Hay's Supermarket. 

The supermarket video was to show Korre Phillips', the man who said he gave Tarver a ride home to Bay on July 3, location at a certain time of a day. 

Etter was also questioned about another possible suspect named Trevor Polston but explained he was released from consideration after questioning. 

Miller crossed Etter by asking about phone records and Polston's whereabouts on July 3. Etter said he had no access to phone records and nothing to do with that paperwork. 

Becky Wrinkles was called to the stand after Etter. Wrinkles said she lives off of Bridger Road and saw a man walking along Bridger Road on July 3 between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Wrinkles told DeProw she found it odd someone was walking along that road because in her 6 years of living in the area she rarely sees people walking. 

She said she remembered a white man walking down the road in blue jeans. 

Wrinkles told DeProw once she saw Tarver's mugshot on Region 8 News she knew that was the man she saw walking down the road. 

Miller crossed by asking Wrinkles if she remembered what the man she saw was wearing. Wrinkles said he was wearing blue jeans, a black t-shirt, and a hat. 

Detective Ron Richardson, a criminal investigator for the Craighead County Sheriff's Department, was the next witness called. 

With 24 years of experience in law enforcement, he described to the prosecutor all the evidence he collected during the Counce murder investigation. 

He also told the jury what he did to the evidence to process it for further information or leads including sending some of it to the Arkansas State Crime Lab. 

Richardson showed the courtroom every piece of evidence including the black bag found at Counce's home and all that was inside it. 

He also discussed his process of dusting for finger prints around Counce's home and in her vehicle. 

Richardson told DeProw it is difficult to get fingerprints from a door knob because the dust they use doesn't stick to it at times. 

Evidence including Counce's purse, wallet, cell phone, cell phone battery, and rope found on Bridger Road were presented. 

Richardson described Counce's wallet and said there was a piece of black tape on the wallet. 

When the tape was removed, Richardson said there was no evidence of the wallet being damaged or needing tape. 

Richardson did see something red on the tape. He told DeProw he sent it to the state crime lab because he wasn't sure if it were blood or lipstick. 

Also found in Counce's car was a pair of gloves. Photos of Counce's body were also shown during Richardson's testimony. 

As part of the investigation, Richardson joined other detectives and deputies in knocking on doors around Bridger Road. 

Richardson said he knocked on many doors in a trailer park off Bridger Road and talked to many residents. 

The only residence that had a connection to Counce was a trailer owned by James Phillips. Richardson said Phillips asked him if they were investigating the Counce murder. 

When Richardson said yes, Phillips told him he knew Counce and used to rent a home from her, but Phillips said he didn't remember anything about July 3 or seeing anyone walking down the road. 

Because of the connection, Richardson said he revisited the trailer multiple times. After several conversations, Richardson finally learned Phillips' son Korre also lived there in the trailer. 

Richardson said he later found out from those who lived at the trailer that Tarver had came by on July 3 and asked Korre to give him a ride back to Bay. 

The detective said Tarver and Korre knew each other, and the surveillance video from Hay's showed Korre was where he said he was at a certain time of day on July 3. 

Richardson did not say what time of day that was or go into detail about the video of Korre. 

After receiving information from Korre, Richardson said a search warrant for Tarver's home was issued. 

When the trial resumed after a lunch recess, employees of the Arkansas State Crime Lab took the stand. 

The first witness was Chantelle Taylor who works with trace evidence at the lab which includes items like hair and fiber. 

Taylor explained her qualifications and what she does during testing. 

She said she tested hair, rope, and plastic wrap from the case. 

During her testing, Taylor said the hair was from an animal. 

The rope she received was from the bag found in Counce's home, a sample taken from Tarver's home and pieces found at Bridger Road. 

She said her testing showed rope from the bag and from Tarver's home matched.

Taylor said her results also showed that more rope from the bag and from Bridger Road had similar properties but could not say for sure if it came from the same piece of rope.

She also had a piece of plastic wrap and a partial used box of plastic wrap to test. 

Taylor told the jury that she could not match up the piece to the box but that it was similar.

During cross-examination, Taylor said both the rope and plastic wrap were not uncommon. 

She said the only uncommon thing about the rope was that it was deconstructed. 

Taylor also said she could not say which animal the hair she tested came from. 

The next witness to take the stand was Mandi Wertenberger who deals with physical evidence.

She also explained her qualifications and process when she tested items. 

Wertenberger said when testing, she looks for things like blood or semen that could give DNA evidence. 

She said she tested the bag and its contents found at Counce's home but did not find blood on anything. 

When cross-examined, she said she did find possible blood on shoes from Tarver's home.

She explained that further testing showed that it was not blood but something else. 

The last witness of the day was Mary Simonson, a DNA examiner.

She said she tested swabs and tape lifts from Wertenberger for possible DNA.

Out of the many items in the bag, she only found Tarver's DNA in a sample from the washcloth. 

She said she did find an unknown female's DNA on items that included the billy club wrapped in plastic wrap and the black bag's zipper and pulls.

Simonson explained that that DNA was not from Counce or Tarver's wife.

When the defense cross-examined Simonson, they asked about each item again. 

She told the jury that the only item in the bag with his DNA was the washcloth. 

When asked about possible cross contamination during testing, Simonson explained that did not happen because their control samples passed each time.

When the prosecution asked more questions, they asked her about the other items. 

Simonson said other items in the bag like a screwdriver or butcher knife did not hold DNA well because it has a smooth surface.

The trial took a recess after Simonson's testimony and will resume Monday at 9 a.m.


The state and defense gave opening statements Thursday morning. 

The jury took their seats as family and friends of Lavinda Counce filled up two rows in the courtroom behind the state. 

Several were also in the courtroom behind Tarver's bench. 

Grant DeProw, deputy prosecutor, gave the state's opening statements. He started by showing the jury a picture of the 90-year-old. 

He explained Counce's daily routine and what she was doing on July 3, 2015. 

DeProw said 11:11 a.m. was the last time anyone heard from Counce on July 3. She spent the day going to the salon and cleaning her home. 

The Counce family planned to get together Saturday, July 4, 2015. 

He also explained what Tarver was doing that day according to his interview with law enforcement. 

DeProw said Tarver had binge watched "The Walking Dead" and had an obsession with zombies, the apocalypse, and how he wanted to know what it was like to kill someone. 

Since there were no zombies, DeProw said Tarver picked a 90-year-old woman to kill. 

DeProw explained to the jury they would hear from several witnesses that put Tarver near NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital on July 3, which is where Counce's car was found. 

One witness the jury will hear from knows Tarver and lives on Bridger Road behind NEA Baptist. DeProw said that witness will explain how Tarver knocked on their door that day asking for a ride back to Bay. 

DeProw also went into detail about July 12, 2015, when Counce was found. A man, on his first day of searching, found Counce's body in a cornfield.

Counce's was found with a gunshot wound to the head. 

Police were called and that's when the missing person's case turned into a murder investigation. 

The state said the Craighead County Sheriff's Office investigation took them to Bridger Road where they talked to witnesses who said they saw Tarver and gave him a ride back to Bay. 

DeProw also described the sheriff's department first interaction with Tarver. The state told the jury they will watch a video where Tarver confesses to police. 

The prosecutor said the jury will see Tarver in the video describe exactly what he did, how he killed Counce, and told police he had a .38-caliber gun in his attic. 

DeProw said Tarver showed no remorse or guilt. He then explained what physical evidence the state will present. 

That evidence includes the duffel bag found inside Counce's home that contains a wash cloth with Tarver's DNA. 

Randel Miller, Tarver's defense attorney, gave his opening statement. "Please don't hurt my wife," is how Miller began. 

He said that is why Tarver confessed. Tarver had watched the news and kept up with Counce case through the media.

Miller said because of threats law enforcement made to his wife and children he felt he had to say whatever they wanted him to say. 

Tarver knew what to say to police because he watched Counce's case unfold in the media.

According to Miller, Tarver is gullible and easily manipulated, which is why police got him to confess. 

Miller told the jury they will hear testimony from Tarver's mother-in-law and wife that explains Tarver was home at the time Counce's car was left at NEA Baptist. 

The lack of physical evidence is something Miller also focused on. He explained there is unidentified DNA of a female and possibly another male on the duffel bag. 

There is no DNA evidence of Tarver inside Counce's car. Tarver's DNA can only be found on the wash cloth inside the duffel bag. Miller also said the gun police found in Tarver's home does not match the bullet used to kill Counce. 

He asked the jury to remember they are here to judge facts and the credibility of witnesses. 

One witness in particular Miller mentioned was the witness that claims he saw Tarver on July 3, on Bridger Road and gave him a ride back to Bay. 

Miller said that witness knew Counce and told the jury they should look for inconsistencies during this entire trial. 

The state called its first witness after Miller's opening statement. Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington called Patsy Scott to the stand. 

Scott is Counce's eldest daughter. Scott described her mother's appearance, stature, past health conditions, and lifestyle. 

Scott was in tears as she described the day her mother went missing. Scott had dinner with her mother Thursday night. That was the last time she saw or spoke to her. 

In her testimony, Scott said she called her mother twice Friday and when she realized at 9:30 p.m. she hadn't heard from her, she knew something was wrong. 

Scott and her husband drove from Jonesboro to Counce's home in Bay to find her car gone, an unmade bed, an unrecognizable duffel bag, and no sign of Counce. 

She said she felt panic when she picked up the duffel bag and saw a crowbar and other tools inside.

Scott called police shortly after that. 

Ellington showed the jury 15 photos of the inside and outside of Counce's home. 

Scott told Ellington there was money and jewelry missing from Counce's dresser drawer. 

Miller did cross-examine Scott and asked her if the money usually in Counce's drawer could have been spent already. Scott said yes it was possible. 

Scott was then released from the witness stand. 

After a lunch recess, the prosecution called Earnestine Ladd to the stand. 

Ladd said she was one of Counce's best friends and called her the day she disappeared. 

She said everything seemed to be normal while they were talking. 

About an hour after the first call, she said she called again but there was no answer. 

After Ladd, Sergeant Keith Milan with the Bay Police Department took the stand. 

Milan explained that in July 2015 he was living in a home across the street from where Counce lived. 

He said he received a call July 3, 2015 at around 10:10 p.m. of a missing person. 

Milan said he walked across the street to talk to the family and was told her car was not there. 

He requested a BOLO for Counce's vehicle. 

Milan told the court he contacted local hospitals to be on the lookout and called the chief to figure out how to send a Silver Alert. 

Milan said the family took him to a bag in the house that they did not claim. 

He noticed a knife, crowbar, and other items in the bag. 

Milan said he asked the family to leave because the room was a crime scene. 

While he was looking around the house, he said he did not see any signs of a struggle or any signs of forced entry. 

Milan explained he also helped in the search for Counce's body, which took up most of his day. 

When the county went to search Tarver's home, Milan said he was instructed by his chief to assist. 

He said they had to force an entry into Tarver's home but did not hear any threats made to anyone. 

During cross-examination by the defense, Milan said he did not ask the family if anyone touched the bag they took him to. 

He said his biggest concern was finding Counce. 

Milan finished his testimony by explaining that they did enter Tarver's home with guns drawn. 

The prosecution called Bay Chief of Police Paul Keith to the stand after Milan.

Keith explained he was called by Milan and told of the suspicious bag the family showed him. 

When he declared the room a crime scene, Keith said he called the Craighead County Sheriff's Department to assist. 

Keith said he helped coordinate the search efforts over the 8 day period when Counce was missing. 

When her body was found, Keith said he was called to lock down the scene. 

Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd was another witness Monday afternoon. 

Boyd said Keith called him and informed him of the missing person. 

He said he knew the Counce family but did not know who was missing when he arrived at the home. 

Boyd said he called other deputies from his department after he arrived. 

He explained that he helped direct investigators during the case and received briefings everyday on where they were at in the investigation.

Boyd said he was in the area when Tarver was arrested. 

The defense cross-examined Boyd and asked him about another suspect. 

Boyd said a boyfriend of a relative of Counce's was a suspect but they ruled him out during their investigation.

After Boyd left the stand, Joey Bogart replaced him. 

Bogart said he saw there was a need for volunteers online and offered his services. 

On July 12, 2015 he went to Bay to look for Counce.

He said he decided to go to the Farville curve but changed his mind. 

Bogart explained his decision took him around a wooded area and to some roads by a corn field. 

He said during a pass, he smelled something odd. 

Bogart said he located where the smell was coming from and expected to find a dead animal. 

While looking through the corn, Bogart said he saw a pair of shoes. 

He explained that he realized he found a body and called the police. 

Craighead County Coroner Toby Emerson took the stand to explain what he did and saw at the location where Bogart found Counce's body.

Emerson said he took photos of the scene, which was a part of his job. 

He said she was not alive when he arrived and that there was an apparent hole in the back of the skull.

Emerson described the body as being in an advanced stage of decomposition with a large amount of insect involvement. 

He said it was very difficult to see the body from the road. 

When asked if Counce had died from natural causes, Emerson said in his opinion she did not.

Elbert Bradford was another witness who took the stand. 

He said he knew the Counce family and wanted to help find her car. 

Bradford said he thought Lavinda Counce had a relative who was in the hospital and decided to check. 

He said he went to NEA Baptist Hospital with a friend and located her car in the parking lot. 

Investigator Gary Etter was the last witness of the day. 

He said he went to the hospital after Counce's car was found. 

Etter said he received surveillance footage from the hospital, which was shown to the jury. 

He described what took place in the video to the jury. 

Etter said during the video, Counce's car could be seen driving through the parking lot. 

He said when the driver parked, a suspect left the vehicle and began walking down Highway 49.

During cross-examination, Etter said he talked to Scott about what they found during the investigation.

When Etter left the stand, court was dismissed for the day.


Jury selection continued Wednesday, after the court chose 5 jurors at the end of court on Tuesday. 

Several potential jurors were excused during questioning. 

One was excused because of memory problems and issues related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Two females were released because of conflicts with childcare and school, and a man was excused because of implied bias. 

At the end of questioning two panels of potential jurors, 11 jurors were chosen.

There is one more panel to be questioned.

From that last panel, the court must choose one more juror to serve as well as alternate jurors. 

A family member of Counce told Region 8 News opening statements begin at 10 a.m. and witnesses will take the stand at 1 p.m.


Jury selection continued Tuesday in a Jonesboro courtroom in the case against Tarver. 

Eighteen potential jurors were questioned in the morning by the judge, state, and defense.

Questions for each juror ranged from personal background, knowledge of or relationship with any possible witnesses, feelings about gun ownership, along with feelings about the death penalty. 

Three were released after they gave their opinion of the death penalty. 

Jury selection continues until there are 12 jurors selected. 


Jury selection began Monday morning for the Lavinda Counce murder trial. 

Judge Cindy Thyer is presiding over the State of Arkansas versus Richard Jordon Tarver. 

Tarver is charged with seven charges including capital murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, aggravated residential burglary, abuse of a corpse, theft of property, and possession of a defaced firearm. 

Police arrested Tarver in July 2015 for the murder of Counce. 

Potential jurors watched an orientation video and completed questionnaires. 

Judge Thyer then dismissed several based on mental or physical impairments and extreme hardships. 

Potential jurors will later be divided into groups, and more will be dismissed. 

A gag order has been issued for those involved in the case.

Region 8 News will continue to track the court preceding all week. 

Click here to review the case and view a timeline of the Counce case. 

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