CONWAY -- The husband of a Wooster woman who was murdered in 2018 after being kidnapped while shopping told a Faulkner County jury Friday that he immigrated to America because it was "the safest country in the world."
After a full day of testimony, Faulkner County Circuit Judge Troy Braswell Jr. recessed until Tuesday the penalty phase of the trial against 20-year-old Tacori Mackrell, who was found guilty Thursday of capital murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and theft of property in the July 7, 2018, death of Elvia Fragstein.
Mackrell faces a sentence of either life in prison without possibility of parole or the death penalty.
The prosecution, led by 20th Judicial Circuit Prosecuting Attorney Carol Crews, called five family members and friends of Elvia Fragstein to testify about the impact that her murder has had on their lives.
Helmut Fragstein, a white-haired German immigrant, spent nearly two hours testifying about the deep love he had for his wife and the impact she had on the world around her.
Thursday would have been the couple's 20th wedding anniversary. Fragstein spent his birthday, Oct. 1, testifying on the first day of the trial against Mackrell.
Fragstein, who was born in 1938, told jurors of his harrowing childhood fleeing East Germany to West Germany after World War II. He them immigrated to America, he said.
Fragstein met Elvia, "the most beautiful woman in the world," while on a trip to Spain.
Elvia, who was from Colombia, was also visiting Spain. It was "love at first sight," Fragstein said.
The two wrote letters to each other for a year before she moved to the United States with him.
They retired in Wooster in 2002.
As photos of a smiling Elvia Fragstein crossed the screen in front of the jury, her husband smiled wistfully from the witness stand, then grabbed a handful of tissues as he sobbed.
Investigators believe Elvia 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 testified this week that he choked and beat Elvia Fragstein to death after she had refused to hand over her 2013 silver Honda CR-V. An autopsy revealed that she suffered eight broken ribs, a fractured cervical vertebra and a crushed throat. Her body was dumped on rural farmland outside of Pine Bluff.
Jason Daniel, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts' office of interpreters, stood at the witness stand with Elvia's daughter, Claudia Castaneda, as she spoke in Spanish of how her mother doted on her many grandchildren.
"She was the best mom and best grandma," Castaneda said, adding that she would "always wait for the call" in Colombia that came every single day from her mother in America.
"Her whole life she was concerned about her children and grandchildren," Castaneda said.
Elvia Fragstein had seven children and stepchildren, and nine grandchildren, according to her obituary.
When Crews asked Castaneda if Helmut Fragstein was different from the last time she saw him, Castaneda looked into the gallery at her stepfather and her lips formed into a sad smile.
"He cries a lot," she said. "He sometimes says, 'Why didn't I go with her that day?'"
As Castaneda left the witness stand, Fragstein stood from his seat and waved his arms wide for her to go to him. The two remained embraced, side-by-side on the courtroom bench, for the remainder of the day, listening to the remaining witnesses.
Luz Newman testified that she had just moved to the U.S. from Colombia in 1997 when she met Elvia Fragstein in an English language class in Wisconsin. The two immediately became close as Elvia took the younger woman under her wing.
"Elvia was my first and only friend," Newman said, telling the jurors that she eventually moved to Arkansas.
"She was like a mother to me. What am I going to do without her now?" Newman cried out. Several members of the jury could be seen passing tissues to one another as tears rolled down their faces.
Claudia Von Fragstein -- Helmut Fragstein's daughter and Elvia's stepdaughter -- told the jurors that she got a call from her father at 6 a.m. on July 8, 2018, telling her that "Elvia is missing."
"That was the day that changed my life forever," she said.
Von Fragstein said her daughter, Carolyn, will be married next month without her "abuela," Spanish for grandmother.
"She would've been a part of that wedding," she said. "It feels like a nightmare, and I just want to wake up."
Von Fragstein told the jurors that her once-happy father rarely smiles anymore.
Elvia Fragstein's grandson, Hugo Castaneda, told the jurors through an interpreter about his close relationship with his grandmother, and how she was always smiling and showing "positivity towards life."
"I don't have words to describe this emptiness, these feelings," he said.
Defense attorneys William "Bill" James Jr. and Jeff Rosenzweig called five character witnesses for Mackrell to testify before court was adjourned for the day.
Mackrell's former basketball coach, Louis Moss, said he never saw Mackrell's mother or father at his basketball games. Mackrell was a good player and followed the rules, Moss said.
Jefferson Regional Medical Center Health Information Director Jacob Blalock testified that Mackrell was born with cocaine in his system.
Anthony Johnson, a former employee of the Division of Youth Services facility in Dermott, testified that he developed a brother/mentor relationship with Mackrell while he was incarcerated there.
Mackrell's aunt was the only family member to visit him there, and that was only once, Johnson said.
The sentencing phase of the trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.