Court sees no merit to man's appeal of term in '17 deaths

The Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that there was no merit to the pro se appeal by a Paron man over the 52-year prison sentence he received in the 2017 deaths of his two children.

Jonathan Welborn, 35, appealed the July 2019 verdict of a Saline County jury that sentenced him after finding him guilty of two counts each of negligent homicide and first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor.

The court also agreed that Welborn's attorney could withdraw from the case, after the attorney told the court "there are no issues of arguable merit to raise on appeal."

Welborn, acting as his own lawyer, argued to the appeals court in his points for reversal that "prosecutorial bias" resulted in an excessive sentence. He said the prosecutor used a whiteboard to list sentences for the jury.

During the trial, the children's mother testified that she and Welborn entered a house in Paron on July 28, 2017, leaving their children, a 2-year-old girl and a 5-month-old boy, in the truck.

Welborn, who was irritated because the mother wanted to stay at the residence and play pool, told her that he was going to take the children home and then return for her, a July 2019 news release from the prosecutor's office stated. Welborn backed the truck out of the driveway, down an embankment and into a pond, where it submerged, according to testimony.

The Paron man testified that he threw his daughter out of the truck's window as it sank under the water and was unable to unbuckle his son's car seat, according to the prosecutor's news release.

The prosecutor's office said that, after escaping through the window of the truck, Welborn went back up the hill, entered the house and sat in a chair playing guitar.

Rescuers took both children to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, where they were pronounced dead, according to an arrest report.

The jury took about 20 minutes to find Welborn guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to 52 years in prison, the maximum consecutive penalty on all offenses, according to a previous article.

According to the Court of Appeals documents, Welborn admitted in his testimony in court that he had been high on meth when he drove the truck into the pond and that he did not immediately call for help.

Welborn's counsel filed a motion to withdraw, contending there were no issues of arguable merit to raise on appeal. The court agreed and granted the counsel's motion to withdraw.