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Prisoner's death focus of inquiry

State police probing Union County murder suspect’s demise by Caitlan Butler | June 20, 2021 at 3:40 a.m.

EL DORADO -- Robert Courtney, who was arrested on April 20 on charges that included capital murder and kidnapping in the shooting of his wife, died while in custody of the Union County sheriff's office.

The Arkansas State Police is investigating his death.

Bill Sadler, public information officer for the state police, said Courtney was pronounced dead at 11 a.m. June 13 after being transferred to a hospital from the Union County jail.

Union County Sheriff Ricky Roberts said Courtney was taken to the Medical Center of South Arkansas by ambulance.

Sadler said Courtney had been monitored overnight on June 12, after he complained of chest pains and nausea.

Citing the ongoing investigation, Roberts said he couldn't answer additional questions about how long Courtney had complained of the symptoms, whether he had any medical conditions, who the medical professional monitoring Courtney was or what time Courtney was transferred to the Medical Center of South Arkansas.

Sadler and Roberts said Courtney's body had been transported to the state Crime Laboratory for autopsy.

"A thorough autopsy will be performed and that takes some time," Robert said in an email to the El Dorado News-Times.

Special agents in the state police Criminal Investigation Division are interviewing witnesses and collecting video footage from the jail, Sadler said. Roberts said state police officials are also reviewing jail staff members' body camera footage.

Sadler said once the investigation is complete, the state police's investigation report will be handed off to a prosecuting attorney for review.

Roberts said it is standard to bring in another law enforcement agency to investigate when a suspect dies in custody.

"Anytime a person dies in the custody of law enforcement it is best to have another agency investigate," he said. "We will run an investigation along with the ASP [state police] to make sure department policies and procedures were followed."

Courtney, 58, was taken into custody shortly after 4:40 p.m. on April 20. Earlier that afternoon, the owner of Corner-Post, a packing and shipping store on Main Street in El Dorado, had called the El Dorado Police Department with a welfare concern.

Chris Jones, the store owner, told police that Courtney, his stepfather, had rushed into the business with a large handgun and forced his mother, Sheila Jones-Courtney, into the couple's vehicle.

The Union County sheriff's office was subsequently asked to assist in the search for Courtney. As they searched for him throughout Union County, they discovered a fire on property that he'd owned before marrying Jones-Courtney.

About 4:40 p.m. that day, the sheriff's office learned that the Ashley County sheriff's office and state police were in pursuit of Courtney near Crossett. Courtney was arrested and initially taken to the Ashley County jail and then was moved to the Union County jail.

That evening, Union County sheriff's office detectives found Jones-Courtney's body in a wooded area near the Arkansas-Louisiana border in Huttig. She had been shot to death.

At the time of his death, Courtney was facing charges of capital murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault on a family or household member, commercial burglary, committing a felony with a firearm and interference with emergency communications.

Capt. Jeff Stinson, chief investigator for the Union County sheriff's office, said Courtney "admitted that he had killed her" and led police to his wife's body. "I can assure the Courtney family, as well as the citizens of our community, this investigation will be thorough with no stone unturned," Roberts said Tuesday. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Courtney's family and friends during this time."

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