CONWAY -- A Faulkner County jury found a Pine Bluff man guilty Thursday of capital murder in the kidnapping and killing of a 72-year-old Wooster woman in 2018.
The jury -- comprised of eight women and four men, all Caucasian -- deliberated just over two hours before convicting 20-year-old Tacori Mackrell -- who is accused of kidnapping and killing 72-year-old Elvia Fragstein on July 7, 2018 -- of capital murder plus kidnapping, aggravated robbery and theft of property.
Mackrell faces either life in prison or the death penalty. The 12 jurors will return at 9 a.m. today to the courtroom of Faulkner County Circuit Judge Troy Braswell Jr. to hear victim impact witnesses called by the prosecution as well as character witnesses called by the defense team. Jurors will then deliberate on Mackrell's sentence.
Investigators believe Fragstein was shopping at the Conway Commons Shopping Center on July 7, 2018, when she was abducted by Mackrell, 18, at the time, and his cousin, Robert Smith II, who was 16 at the time. Smith is to be tried separately next month.
Mackrell did not visibly react to the guilty verdict, other than twisting his chair back and forth for several minutes afterward.
In an interview afterward, defense attorney William "Bill" James Jr. said their side was disappointed with the guilty verdict.
"We've got a lot more fighting to do tomorrow," James said. "Our goal is no more death in this case."
Just before the jury returned with the verdict, 20th Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews and her staff members ushered Fragstein's husband, Helmut Fragstein, and other family members into the courtroom gallery.
The white-haired Helmut Fragstein made no audible reactions to the verdict, but spoke animatedly afterwards to a woman sitting next to him. Helmut Fragstein was a witness for the prosecution and was not allowed to be in the courtroom during the trial.
Two courtroom benches were packed each day with members of the Faulkner County Master Gardeners, of which Helmut and Elvia Fragstein were members. The men and women could be seen writing in notepads each day.
Thursday morning began with closing statements by senior deputy prosecutor John Hout, who described Mackrell and Smith's actions as a "hunt."
"July 7, 2018, was the day of that hunt," Hout said. "Elvia Fragstein was the victim of that hunt."
Hout repeatedly described the "hunt" as a "vicious, multifactional, prolonged assault," a description given in previous testimony of Stephen Erickson, the deputy chief medical examiner at the state Crime Laboratory. Erickson performed Fragstein's autopsy and deemed her death a homicide.
Mackrell had testified Wednesday that he choked and beaten Fragstein to death after he had slipped into the back seat of her car and demanded that she give him the vehicle, a 2013 silver Honda CR-V. Smith helped Mackrell tie up the elderly woman with their belts before dumping her body on rural farmland outside of Pine Bluff.
Hout refuted Mackrell's testimony that Fragstein died in Conway within five minutes of the attack. The severity of the injuries, Hout said, say otherwise.
An autopsy revealed that she had suffered eight broken ribs, a fractured cervical vertebra and a crushed throat.
"This wasn't boys just being boys," Hout said. "This was them laying out a well-executed plan."
Hout said what was "most chilling" about Mackrell's testimony the previous day was that he never said he was sorry for killing Elvia Fragstein.
"Sometimes, the words that aren't said are the loudest," Hout said.
In the defense's closing arguments, James said he had told Mackrell not to say he was sorry on the stand.
"It was not the time," James said.
James told jurors the brain of an 18-year-old is not fully developed and could still be rehabilitated.
Mackrell had said repeatedly in his testimony that he acted on "impulse," James reminded the jurors.
"He said, 'I never intended for it to happen,'" James said.
On rebuttal, Crews again likened the murder to a "hunt" and said that Mackrell's age didn't matter to Elvia Fragstein.
"Her six ribs on the right side were no less broken because he was 18," she said.
The defense, Crews told the jurors, was trying to minimize what happened to Fragstein.
"Minimize. Minimize. Minimize," Crews said. "And they're hoping you will buy it."
Mackrell and Smith "grabbed a 72-year-old woman in broad daylight."
"This isn't boys running around," Crews said. "Don't let them minimize what Mrs. Fragstein went through."