Corning Teenager Clinging to Life After Being Attacked with Baseball Bat

APRIL 17, 2006 -- POSTED AT 10:30 P.M. CST

CORNING, AR -- Saturday started off as a normal, quiet day in the small town of Corning , but all that changed on Stephens Lane Saturday evening.

“There was a racial remark made by someone to one of the black males in a joining yard. A confrontation started from that remark,” said Sheriff Ronnie Cole of Clay County .

The confrontation soon turned into a fight and while dozens of neighbors watched, a black male, 19 year-old Craig Matthews, was beaten with a baseball bat. His friend said he tried to help, but he was out-numbered.

"They wouldn't even let me get to him. He was lying on the ground unconscious and they were just beating him in the head with a bat. I'm his best friend and I was just helpless. I couldn't do anything. I get mad thinking about it," says Reggie Jones, a friend of the victim who witnessed the beating.

Matthews was immediately taken to the hospital, but the police work was just beginning. Police told K8 News they believe this could be a racially motivated hate crime.

"Corning Police Department, realizing that the Police Chief's son and some of his family were involved, turned the investigation over to the Sheriff's Department," says Clay County Sheriff Ronnie Cole.

Corning 's Police Chief, Jim Groning, has not been charged. He is related to the suspects, but not related to this crime.

A juvenile suspect is being held in Craighead County, but as for Donald Groning and Wanda Emmons, the charges have landed them at the Clay County Detention Center.

38-year -old Donald Groning, whose father serves as Corning 's Police Chief, is among the first of the three suspects. He faces two charges: First degree battery and tampering with evidence. His bond is set at $250,000.

60-year-old Wanda Emmons, Donald Groning's mother, also is behind bars. She faces three charges: Hindering apprehension, Tampering with evidence, and Contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Emmons bond is set at $15,000.

A juvenile, whose name we can't legally release, has been charged with first degree battery as well.

We asked the witnesses why they thought this all happened?

"Being racist basically. I dream about it all the time. My best friend, just watching that and they wouldn't let me get to him," said Reggie Jones.

As for now, the Clay County Sheriff's Department and the Arkansas State Police are handling the investigation. Craig Matthews was the only victim hospitalized in this case. He is being held in the Intensive Care Unit at Southeast Hospital in Cape Girardeau, Missouri . His condition is listed as critical, but stable.  As of late Monday afternoon, he was on life support, according to Second Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Brent Davis.