North Little Rock man pleads to first-degree murder charge in stabbing of Kroger employee

He fatally stabbed supermarket customer, ran from police

A 20-year-old North Little Rock man who fatally stabbed a supermarket customer in front of the store last year has accepted a 50-year prison sentence for the unprovoked attack.

Sentencing papers filed Nov. 4 show Ethan William Smith pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, reduced from capital murder, and residential burglary in exchange for the sentence imposed by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Karen Whatley.

According to police reports, North Little Rock officers were called to the Kroger supermarket at 4401 Camp Robinson Road where they found James Lee Booth in front of the store suffering from numerous stab wounds to his chest and stomach. Booth was too injured to speak and died about nine hours later, despite undergoing emergency surgery at two hospitals. The father of one and a carpenter called "Felock" by his friends, he was two weeks from turning 57.

Witnesses described seeing a man wearing gray sweatpants attack Booth, and within minutes, police found a man matching that description west of the Kroger in the 700 block of West 45th Street. The mid-morning attack was also recorded on several security cameras.

The man ran when officers approached him, breaking into the home of Jacquila Bowie at 702 W. 45th St., where he begged her for help, saying he "had just gotten into some s***." The man had broken a rear window to get into the house.

Bowie forced the man out of the home when he refused her demands to leave, telling police she had no idea what he'd done when she confronted him. Arresting officers reported that he was bleeding from a cut to his right hand and one to his mid-right arm, with blood on his upper body and pants, police reports show. He gave police a fake name, with officers not discovering his true identity until after he'd been arrested.

In February, Booth's daughter, Lakeshia Booth, sued the Kroger company and its security provider, Central Defense Services, in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

According to the suit, Smith had been "loitering, panhandling, begging, harassing and approaching" customers as they left the store. He was obviously drunk or on drugs and the defendants should have known that he was a nuisance and danger to its customers, noting that police had been called to the supermarket 13 times since February 2021 to investigate fights, arguments, people with guns, thefts and a shooting, the 22-page lawsuit states.

The wrongful-death suit seeks damages, claiming negligence, negligent hiring and negligent training, among others.The defendants have all denied wrongdoing

Under the plea agreement, negotiated by prosecutors John Johnson and Hannah Johnston with public defenders Leslie Borgognoni and Andrew Thornton, a second-degree battery charge, representing accusations that Smith, at age 17, had attacked a juvenile detention officer, Kyle McMann, were dropped.

Court records show that Smith was in the county juvenile detention facility in July 2020 when he was accused of attacking a detention officer. Smith was being held then on a juvenile domestic battering charge.

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