Just more than nine months after 85-year-old Maurine Jones was found dead in her Sherwood home half-naked, a scarf wrapped around her broken neck and chemical burns over her body, her best friend's 52-year-old son was sentenced to life in prison for killing her.
Senior deputy prosecutor Marianne Satterfield urged jurors Wednesday not to get distracted by the senseless nature of the slaying, but to focus on the evidence that pointed only to Chris Anthony Arnold of Jacksonville.
Just because no one knows why Arnold would horrifically murder a woman he'd known for years -- whom he regularly attended church with -- did not mean he did not kill her, Satterfield said. The motives of anyone who would kill any elderly woman, particularly the way Jones was killed, are "unfathomable."
"We can't explain the unexplainable," Satterfield said. "Sometimes the why is found in the darkest chapter in the little dark book in the library of someone's mind."
Satterfield said the best evidence of who killed the widowed grandmother of 17 was the man's DNA "drenching" her hands. Scientific testing showed unquestionably that the genetic material had come from Arnold, the last person authorities knew to have seen Jones alive, Satterfield said in her closing arguments.
His DNA was also on fragments of latex gloves discovered by the body. All that DNA was as much proof of Arnold's guilt as snow on the ground is evidence of the weather, she said.
"The last person she touches, the last person she had contact with, that's the person who killed her," the prosecutor said.
The only way Jones could have died with Arnold's DNA on her hands would be that after she had extensive contact with him, she'd been attacked by someone else but refused to put up her hands to defend herself, allowing her killer to beat and choke her to death, Satterfield told jurors. Satterfield cast her own arms out wide to emphasis her point.
Arnold did not testify Wednesday, and his attorneys called no witnesses, arguing that his DNA was on Jones' hands because he'd come to her rescue after he saw her fall behind her home. Arnold had been fishing in the lake behind the house and had helped pick her up after she'd fallen, they told jurors.
Arnold was charged with capital murder, which carried an automatic life sentence. Deputy prosecutor Michael Wright said Jones' death by strangulation was a "close, personal, intimate and violent act."
Wright said the cruel nature of Jones' murder and the calculating way chemicals were poured on her remains to destroy evidence proved the woman's killer acted deliberately and had thought out what he was doing.
Jurors instead convicted Arnold of the lesser charge, first-degree murder, which left a life sentence as an option for the 10 women and two men, but also carries a 10-year minimum sentence.
Arnold had come to the attention of police when his mother, Pauline Arnold, who was one of the three people who found Jones' body on Dec. 1, told police he'd been fishing on Indianhead Lake behind Jones' Shoshoni Drive home the night before.
The friends had gone looking for Jones, a devoted member of Indianhead Lake Baptist Church, after she did not show up for her weekly breakfast with the pastor.
In a case both defense and prosecution acknowledged was entirely circumstantial, defense attorney Bret Qualls said the account Arnold gave his mother -- who described his story for jurors -- was more plausible than the theory that Arnold had suddenly snapped and brutally strangled a woman and fellow church member he'd known for years.
Circumstantial evidence is not sufficient to convict a man if there's another reasonable explanation for that evidence, like Arnold coming to the woman's rescue after she'd fallen, Qualls said.
"One day he just went mad? Is that what happened?" Qualls told jurors in his closing arguments. "Or is it more likely she'd fallen? Chris ... helps her get up. He helps her get inside and cleaned up" then left.
Arrested four days before Christmas, Arnold also faces gun and drug charges based on the arresting officers' discovery of methamphetamine, marijuana, and two rifles and a pistol in his home. As a felon with a 2004 conviction for theft by receiving in Cleburne County, Arnold is barred from owning guns.
At the time of Jones' slaying, Arnold was awaiting trial on a methamphetamine charge stemming from his June 2016 arrest in Indian Head Park in Sherwood, about a quarter mile from Jones' house.
Arnold was arrested shortly before midnight after police, investigating a white pickup parked after-hours in the park, discovered that he had meth in his wallet, an arrest report said.
A woman with him was released without being charged. Arnold told police that she was his stepdaughter, according to the arrest report.
Metro on 09/21/2017
Print Headline: Man gets life sentence for Sherwood slaying; Woman, 85, was strangled, burned