INDEPENDENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - An Independence County man is now facing charges in connection with a suspected arson that happened on Feb. 14, during which his wife says he attacked her and tried to keep her inside their burning home.
According to Sheriff Shawn Stephens, the Charlotte and Cord Fire Departments, along with the sheriff's office, responded to a mobile home fire around 1:30 a.m. on Shamrock Lane in Cord.
While deputies were en route to the fire, another 911 call came from a nearby house.
The caller said his sister, Annetta Watkins, had just got to his house and said her husband, Robert Watkins, had attacked her.
According to court documents, Annetta told a deputy that she woke up to loud popping sounds coming from under her bed.
Her husband was not in bed at the time.
The woman said she saw a small fire under Robert's side of the bed. She tried to put it out but couldn't.
Annetta then said she noticed a glow from the bedroom closet and opened it to find heavy smoke.
She then began yelling for her husband to come help her.
When he came into the bedroom he said, "it's going to be okay," according to the victim's statement to police.
He then reportedly grabbed her from behind and put a wet washcloth over her mouth and nose, wrapped his arm around her neck, and began to strangle her.
Annetta told the deputy that during the struggle she told him, "I love you" and he responded, "I love you too" and also said, "don't fight it."
She eventually escaped his hold and ran to the front door, which Robert reportedly tried to hold shut as she was trying to get out.
Annetta said she "nearly lost consciousness while he was choking her," according to the probable cause affidavit.
She said Robert began asking what happened and acting confused and Annetta was able to get outside, wearing only one sock and no other clothes.
A person Annetta knew pulled up to her, gave her a blanket to cover up, and drove her to her brother's house.
After being taken to the hospital, Annetta told another investigator, "he tried to kill me," before being sedated.
She also told them about a car crash that happened a few years ago saying, "she felt her husband had purposely crashed the car on the passenger side where she sat."
She said when she told her husband to dial 911 after that crash that he punched her in the face.
The affidavit states that the detective did notice physical injuries to her face and neck, which he thought was consistent with the attack she described during the fire.
During an interview with detectives, Robert denied attacking his wife and had no explanation for why the fire started in two separate places in the bedroom.
He claimed he was sleeping in his recliner on the other side of the house and only helped to guide his wife out of the bedroom and to the front door.
According to the affidavit, Robert stated that he had difficulty getting the front door to unlock so they could escape.
Robert stated that "he loves his wife and has no desire to harm her."
Robert is charged with aggravated assault.
Sheriff Stephens said more charges are expected.
Items seized during a search warrant of the fire scene were sent to the Arkansas State Crime Lab for examination.
The house was destroyed in the fire.