CAMDEN -- A judge has ruled that the body of Matthew Seth Jacobs can be exhumed for a new autopsy because there is cause to believe that there may have been more to Jacobs' death.
Jacobs was a survivor of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in 2010 and was awarded a multimillion-dollar settlement. He died in an auto accident in 2015, and his will later came into dispute after Jacobs' family members accused local real estate agent Donna Herring of falsifying the will.
Ouachita County Circuit Judge Edwin Keaton granted the request to exhume the body after finding that "reasonable cause exists to believe that Jacobs' death occurred under circumstances contrary to that of the auto accident and bodily trauma."
The order authorizes the Arkansas State Police to exhume Jacobs' remains so the state medical examiner can perform an autopsy.
Prosecuting Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit John Thomas Shepherd confirmed to Camden News the order had been authorized.
"Basically, there has been information that we're wanting to confirm the cause of death as listed on the death certificate, and the family of Mr. Jacobs were in favor of doing that, also in order to have some closure and some of these unanswered questions answered," Shepherd said.
Jacobs is buried at Bethesda Cemetery, Ouachita County Sheriff David Norwood said. The sheriff said county workers will be contacted about the date of the exhumation.
The ruling came weeks after Herring pleaded guilty Jan. 26 to one charge of wire fraud. Herring agreed to forfeit a car she received from the proceeds of Jacobs' estate. She had purchased other vehicles, property and real estate with funds from the estate but was forced to forfeit those items per court order.
Herring's daughter, Jordan Alexandra Peterson, pleaded guilty Jan. 25 to knowingly lying to FBI agents.
Peterson had dated Jacobs at one point, but Jacobs was dating someone else at the time of his death. The will that Herring falsified left the majority of Jacobs estate to Peterson instead of to his son. Court records show that at the time of his death, Jacobs' estate had an estimated value of around $1.7 million.
Herring faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Peterson faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Neither woman has been sentenced.
Jacobs met Herring when he decided to buy a house. Herring became his real estate agent and then introduced him to Peterson.
Documents from the Ouachita County circuit clerk's office show that at on Jan. 19, 2015, Jacobs was believed to have been on his way to visit a girlfriend.
Jacobs was driving north along U.S. 79 when he lost control of his 2005 Chrysler Crossfire, crossed the centerline of the road without braking and slammed into a tree, according to a traffic report from the Arkansas State Police that was included in a probate filing. He died at the scene.
After Jacobs' death, his son Jordan Jacobs and with his brother Laurence Reed searched Jacobs' home for his last will and testament but couldn't locate it, according to court documents.
On Jan. 25, 2015, Herring claimed to have discovered a sealed envelope containing a duplicate of the will and testament but refused to show the purported last will and testament to Jordan Jacobs and Reed, court documents said. Instead, Herring persuaded Reed to give the sealed envelope to a local attorney, who was subsequently engaged to represent Peterson in the probate case related to Jacobs' estate, according to court documents.
Evidence also showed that the will Herring claimed to have found at Jacobs' home had been created by Herring on Formswift.com six days after Jacobs' death.
State Desk on 02/24/2018