Judge in hot-tub death case rejects defense requests

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren refused Monday to set aside his ruling that ended up with James Bates being financially liable for the death of a man at his house after Bates did not file a timely response to the lawsuit.

Karren presided over a hearing Monday on whether to reconsider his ruling concerning a default judgment in Victor Collins' death in a hot tub at James Bates' home.

The case drew national attention when prosecutors and police asked Amazon to turn over any information that the Echo smart speaker device in Bates' home might have recorded the night of Collins' death.

Bates was charged but never tried for murder in Victor Collins' death. Prosecutors dismissed Bates' case.

Kristine Homan, Collins' widow, filed the wrongful-death lawsuit against Bates. The lawsuit was filed Nov. 2 and Bates was served Nov. 6. Bates failed to meet the 30-day deadline to answer the lawsuit.

Karren granted a default judgment in Homan's favor, and the only issue in the case is monetary damages.

A jury trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 6.

Joseph Falasco, Bates' attorney, asked the judge at Monday's hearing to reconsider the default ruling.

Falasco claimed the default ruling should be set aside, saying Bates had been served with a defective summons.

Falasco also filed a motion seeking Karren's recusal from the case. Falasco said Karren should have recused earlier because he presided over Bates' criminal case.

Randall Wakefield, Homan's attorney, said the default judgment issue had been litigated and decided. Wakefield also argued against Karren recusing from the case.

Karren stood by his ruling and denied Falasco's motion to reconsider the ruling.

The judge also denied the motion to recuse from the case.

Karren noted that he was randomly assigned the case and did not seek it out.

Bates was charged with first-degree murder and tampering. He pleaded innocent.

Prosecutors dropped the charges in November 2017. Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith noted new information from Bates' attorney, adding that Arkansas law requires evidence be consistent with the guilt of the accused and inconsistent with any other reasonable explanation.

Police and medics were called to Bates' home in November 2015 and found Collins, who appeared to have a black eye, dead in the hot tub, according to the affidavit.

Metro on 04/02/2019

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