A Camden couple is scheduled to appear today in a federal change-of-plea hearing in El Dorado on charges they helped forge the will of a man who died in a 2015 car wreck, leaving a fortune he obtained as a survivor in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster.
John Wayne Kinley Jr. and Marion Diane Kinley were indicted last year, accused of signing as witnesses the will of Matthew Seth Jacobs that authorities say Donna Christina Herring of Camden forged five days after Jacobs died.
Herring used an Internet site for creating and editing legal documents to forge the will, authorities said. Her use of the site to forge the will formed the basis of charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud along with money laundering and aggravated identity theft charges that the federal government brought against her. She pleaded guilty in January to the conspiracy charge.
Court records show Herring wrote the will so that most of Jacobs' $1.7 million estate would go to her daughter, Jordan Alexandra Peterson, an ex-girlfriend of Jacobs, who was 34 at the time of his death. The family claims Herring fostered the relationship to deepen her own involvement in Jacobs' life.
Peterson was charged in the federal indictment with money laundering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, making false statements and obstruction. She pleaded guilty in January to lying to the FBI.
Herring and Peterson remain free on bond awaiting sentencing. In their plea agreements with the government, the women agreed to pay full restitution.
Each of the Kinleys is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The court records didn't indicate to what charge they are expected to plead today. Their plea agreements with the government will become part of the public record after the hearing.
Court records said Jacobs was injured in 2010 in the fiery Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and fire in the Gulf of Mexico. He was part of a class action lawsuit that grew out of the disaster and was awarded a large amount of money.
Court records said Jacobs met Herring, a real estate agent in Camden, who helped him spend some of his fortune on property purchases, including a $200,000 home where he lived in Camden when he died.
A 2016 lawsuit brought by Jacobs' estate against Herring, Peterson and the Kinleys said Herring became closely involved in Jacobs' life. At one point, the suit said, Peterson was engaged to Jacobs in 2014 but they never married.
The suit said Jacobs was believed to be driving to the home of another girlfriend Jan. 19, 2015, when he ran off the road, hit a tree and was killed.
Citing a police accident report, the lawsuit said Jacobs was driving on the dry, clear and straight road minutes from his home when he wrecked. His car veered to the left, crossed lanes of traffic and struck a tree, according to the report. There were no signs of braking before Jacobs hit the tree.
John Thomas Shepherd, prosecuting attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit, filed a petition Feb. 20 requesting that Jacobs' body be exhumed and an autopsy performed. The petition said no autopsy was performed before Jacobs was buried.
Shepherd said last week that members of Jacobs' family wanted the autopsy to confirm the cause of death and approved of the exhumation.
The petition also asked for the exhumation and autopsy because law enforcement developed information "providing reasonable cause to believe that decedent's death occurred under circumstances contrary to those circumstances described in decedent's death certificate."
The petition said the death certificate reflected the cause of death was bodily trauma from the car accident.
The petition asked the Arkansas State Police and any assisting law enforcement agency exhuming the body to search for and seize any evidence of a criminal offense.
Shepherd declined to disclose any information law enforcement had developed on Jacobs' death or the agencies that developed it.
Technically, he said, the exhumation and autopsy were part of a criminal investigation since he filed the petition in the criminal division of circuit court and the autopsy was being conducted by the state Crime Laboratory in Little Rock. But there was no specific person under investigation, he said.
Jacobs' body was exhumed late last month from Bethesda Cemetery in Ouachita County, Shepherd said. The autopsy was completed at the Crime Lab and the body has been re-interred. Testing is ongoing at the Crime Lab, he said, and it could be at least another month before the final report is completed.
Immediately after Jacobs' death, his son, Jordan, then 17, and his brother, Lance Reed, searched Jacobs' home for a will but didn't find one, according to the Jacobs' estate lawsuit. The search included a check of Jacobs' gun safe.
After creating the forged will and having the Kinleys sign as witnesses, Herring's plea agreement with the government said that Herring sealed the will in an envelope, marked the outside "MJ" and secretly placed it in Jacobs' gun safe. The next day, she sent her husband and a neighbor to Jacobs' home to search for the will and they "discovered" it in the gun safe.
The will was filed in probate in Ouachita County Circuit Court in March 2015, the federal indictment said. Jacobs' family settled with the estate. Jordan Jacobs received $50,000 provided in the will, an additional $250,000 and several items of personal property.
Peterson received all the other assets that totaled about $1.3 million, according to the indictment.
From August to December 2015, the indictment said, Herring and Peterson transferred more than $900,000 from Jacobs' various bank accounts into bank accounts they controlled. They also took possession of three homes Jacobs owned valued at more than $300,000 and other property worth more than $150,000.
The Jacobs estate lawsuit said when it was discovered that Herring had forged Jacobs' will, the FBI was notified and the lawsuit seeking return of Jacobs' property was filed in Ouachita County Circuit Court.
The initial federal indictment, which named only Herring, was filed Nov. 16, 2016, according to court records. A superseding indictment that charged Herring, Peterson and the Kinleys was filed Jan. 11, 2017.
State Desk on 04/30/2018