A 17-year-old murder suspect accused by prosecutors of executing a man in front of the victim's family at a Little Rock carnival earlier this year saw his bail set at $1 million over the objections of his lawyer who says the only two witnesses to see the killer both described a larger, heavier man.
The pronouncement for Keaton Jamal McGee of Alexander by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Cathi Compton on Monday sent McGee's mother storming out of the courtroom crying and screaming.
Prosecutors seek a life sentence for McGee, charged with capital murder in the April slaying of Deante Deshawn Smith of Forrest City. Smith, 22, was shot in the back of the head while waiting with his sister, girlfriend and some children to get on a ride at the carnival by the Outlets of Little Rock mall and Bass Pro Shops.
Held without bail since his arrest four days after Smith was killed, McGee and attorney Megan Wilson were in court Monday for a bond hearing, hoping for a "reasonable" amount of bail. Wilson disputed the strength of the case against her client.
No one can conclusively identify McGee as the killer, she said. Two eyewitnesses to the shooting described a gunman at least 4 inches taller and tens of pounds heavier than the 5-foot, 8-inch, 140-pound teen, Wilson said. One of them was a carnival worker who said he chased the killer until the man got into a blue Dodge Challenger and escaped.
Smith's family isn't sure McGee is the killer either, Wilson said. Relatives told police that Smith had been feuding with an acquaintance -- a co-defendant in an armed robbery case in another county -- for some time, and that man had threatened to kill Smith the night before he was murdered, Wilson said.
Court records show that Smith has convictions for witness intimidation, related to an arson case, and aggravated assault from St. Francis County. Smith was facing 14 felony charges in Conway, Faulkner and Pulaski counties that had accrued since November 2019, including three counts of kidnapping, four counts of aggravated robbery and a charge of attempted aggravated robbery.
Deputy prosecutor Jayme Butts-Hall described the slaying as an execution, a crime made particularly chilling because of its public setting, a carnival attended by hundreds of people, many of them families with children.
She noted that McGee was already facing an aggravated assault charge involving accusations that he fired a gun into a crowd. He is one of six teens between the ages of 16 and 18 accused of engaging in a February gunfight at the Otter Creek Homeowners Association clubhouse in southwest Little Rock where a crowd had gathered to watch two girls fight, one of whom was wounded by a bullet that police say was fired by a co-defendant.
But it was the prosecutor's accusations that McGee would be a flight risk if released that the judge said she was responding to when deciding his bail. McGee was twice incarcerated in Division of Youth Services facilities and twice escaped, Butts-Hall told the judge. He now faces an escape charge related to police efforts to arrest him in the murder case.
Police took McGee into custody shortly after the shooting -- following a vehicle pursuit that ended in a crash -- but he managed to get away from officers, still wearing handcuffs, at the 12th Street police station and eluded searchers for four days before surrendering to federal marshals in Little Rock, the prosecutor said.
At least one unidentified man fled the crash scene, but left behind in the vehicle, a maroon Ford F150 pickup, were two guns, one of which was the weapon used in the carnival killing, officer Terry McDaniel told the judge at the hearing. The truck's owner told investigators that he had loaned it to men he knew only as "Black" and "Big Man."
Also significant was what McGee was wearing at the time -- black jeans and a black "puffy" bubble jacket, McDaniel testified. The same day McGee surrendered to police, officers searched his home and found the clothing, McDaniel said.
Police have collected video from a variety of sources, but none are clear enough to identify the gunman, McDaniel said. The best authorities have is a Snapchat social-media video recorded by a carnival-goer from on top of the Ferris wheel that shows a man dressed in black -- wearing a puffy jacket -- standing behind the victim. The figure can be seen extending his arm, then shots can be heard, followed by the jacketed man fleeing just before the rest of the crowd takes flight, McDaniel said.
Other video collected by police shows the jacketed man arriving in the maroon Ford pickup with two passengers, McDaniel testified. The recordings show the man walking briskly into the carnival and up to the victim, with some of the recordings showing him leaving in the truck as spectators flee, the officer testified.
McGee also has two separate pending felony cases in Saline County with charges of simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms, and five counts of breaking or entering.