Appeals court reverses, dismisses first-degree murder, aggravated robbery conviction in Mississippi Co. case

Appeals court reverses, dismisses first-degree murder, aggravated robbery conviction in Mississippi Co. case
A judge reversed a man murder and aggravated robbery charge. (Source: Mississippi County Sheriff's Office)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - Prosecutors did not provide enough evidence to connect a Mississippi County man to an aggravated robbery that led to a man’s death in 2016, thus the man’s aggravated robbery and murder conviction was reversed and dismissed, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

In the 12-page ruling from Appeals Court Judge Brandon J. Harrison, the case involved Ashton Clark.

Clark was arrested in 2016 on suspicion of capital murder in the death of John Williams.

A Mississippi County jury convicted Clark in 2018 on first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the case.

Harrison said in the ruling that the state did not meet its burden of proof in the case.

“The State’s theory of the case was that Clark and three co-defendants attempted to rob John Williams, who was shot and killed in the process. As his first point on appeal, Clark argues that his convictions should be reversed because the state failed to corroborate the accomplice testimony of Harold Weeden. We agree,” Harrison wrote. “Because the States lacks enough corroborating evidence to support Clark’s convictions, we must reverse and dismiss.”

Harrison noted in the ruling that evidence in an aggravated robbery portion of the case did not link Clark to the case.

“Other evidence tended to show the robbery occurred but none of it identified the appellant (Clark). The only other evidence was the statement of appellant wherein he steadfastly denied any part of the Church’s Fried Chicken robbery,” Harrison wrote. “The only fact possibly connecting him with it was that he was there. In his statement appellant insisted he requested the co-defendants to drive him home after he found out they planned the second robbery. We still adhere to the principle that a man is innocent until proven guilty. The mere presence of a person at the scene of a crime is not proof of his guilt, otherwise the customers and employees at Church’s Fried Chicken might be in appellant’s place.”

Harrison also said in the ruling that the murder charge also faced scrutiny.

“The circuit court instructed the jury on first-degree felony murder and identified aggravated robbery as the underlying felony offense for the felony murder conviction. Because the state failed to provide substantial corroboration for the predicate felony - aggravated robbery - Clark’s conviction for first-degree felony murder fails as a matter of law,” Harrison said. “We must therefore reverse the first-degree murder conviction, too.”

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