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story.lead_photo.caption A map showing the location of Sharp County.

First-degree murder charges were filed Monday in Sharp County against two men in two separate cases.

Mark Leslie Shirley Jr., 36, of DeWitt, was charged in the crowbar beating death of his uncle Mark Ballard, 50, of Ash Flat in October.

Freddie Howard Johnston, 34, of Ash Flat, was charged in the November shooting death of Jeremy Watkins, 34, also of Ash Flat.

On Oct. 2, the Sharp County sheriff's office received a call from Ballard's sister, Karen Barlow, according to an affidavit for an arrest warrant filed in circuit court by detective Sgt. Aaron Presser.

Barlow told police that she had gone to Ballard's house on Arkansas 167, opened a window and made contract with Amanda Shirley, who stated that she and Ballard "were hurt and needed help."

Barlow told police that Ballard and Amanda Shirley were naked and covered in blood.

Sheriff Mark Counts interviewed Barlow at the scene.

"She stated that Mark Shirley had been mad at Mark Ballard for having sex with Mark Shirley's wife Amanda," according to the affidavit. "Mark Shirley had also made the comment that he was going to kill both Ballard and Amanda over the past couple of weeks," reports said.

Counts said Tuesday that Mark Ballard was Mark Shirley's uncle.

Mark Shirley was arrested in Lonoke. He told Counts that Amanda Shirley and Ballard had been having an affair off and on for 15 years, according to the affidavit. Mark Shirley told the sheriff that he and his wife had been separated for a month but had discussed getting back together.

Mark Shirley told the sheriff that he entered Ballard's house about 2 a.m. Oct. 2, believing Amanda Shirley was there but Ballard wasn't because his truck wasn't in the driveway, the affidavit said. The back door was unlocked.

"Shirley described the bedroom as being very dark, but it had just enough light to see his wife's face," according to the affidavit. "Shirley stated he approached the bed and got down on his knees to kiss Amanda on the cheek to wake her up. Shirley stated that when she awoke she stated that she loved him, then started to say 'Watch out' at the same time Shirley stated he saw a reflection of a shadow move across his left shoulder.

"Shirley stated he did not know what was going on but rolled out of the way just in time to notice that Ballard was behind him, completely nude, with a crowbar raised above his head swinging it down at him," according to the affidavit. "Shirley stated Ballard had already begun his swing and could not stop it before striking Amanda in the face with the crowbar."

Shirley told police he took the crowbar away from Ballard and struck him in the head three times, causing him to collapse in a puddle of blood at the foot of the bed, the affidavit says.

A doctor at the Arkansas medical examiner's office told Presser that Ballard was struck from behind, not in the manner described by Mark Shirley, according to the affidavit.

Investigators found the cellphones of Amanda Shirley and Mark Ballard in a grassy area behind the house. The screen on Amanda Shirley's phone was broken, and there was a small amount of blood in it, according to the affidavit.

Amanda Shirley underwent emergency surgery Oct. 4, according to the affidavit.

Besides first-degree murder, Mark Shirley was also charged with attempted first-degree murder, domestic battering, aggravated residential burglary and interference with emergency communication.

Mark Shirley was being held Tuesday in the Sharp County jail in Ash Flat. He was scheduled to appear in court Dec. 12 on charges of theft of property, burglary, and breaking or entering from a separate case. Last year, he pleaded guilty to felony fleeing after leading police on a 22-mile chase that went through Hazen at speeds exceeding 150 mph, according to court records.

The shooting of Jeremy Watkins took place Nov. 2, and he died 10 days later, according to a news release from Henry Boyce, prosecuting attorney for Arkansas' 3rd Judicial Circuit.

On Nov. 2, the sheriff's office received a 911 call at 4:36 a.m. from Amber Johnston, who said her husband, Freddie, had entered her home and shot Watkins, then himself.

Johnston told investigators she and Watkins were lying in bed when they heard Freddie Johnston enter the house, according to an affidavit for an arrest warrant in that case.

"Amber stated Freddie told Watkins to 'get out of his bed,'" according to the affidavit. "Watkins sat up at the foot of the bed. Amber stated at that point Freddie shot twice, striking Watkins in the upper torso, and then turned the gun onto himself and shot himself in the chest."

Officers found a 9mm pistol at the scene.

"Watkins told the EMS crew that he was shot by Freddie and then Freddie shot himself," according to the affidavit.

Amber Johnston had gotten an order of protection against Freddie Johnston on Oct. 31, according to the affidavit.

Besides first-degree murder, Freddie Johnston was charged with aggravated residential burglary, aggravated assault on a family member and violation of an order of protection.

Freddie Johnston is currently in a hospital, Counts said.

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Metro on 11/22/2017

Print Headline: Sharp County slayings lead to 2 men charged; Cases separate, occur a month apart

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