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Repeat offender gets 30 years in Pulaski County stabbing

by John Lynch | October 6, 2022 at 3:36 a.m.

A plaintiff in a landmark federal court case about how long Arkansas jailed defendants whose mental health was called into question has accepted a 30-year prison sentence for fatally stabbing a homeless man last year.

Michael Wayne McSpadden, 39, pleaded guilty as charged to first-degree murder for the November slaying of Donny Lynn McKuin, sentencing papers filed Monday show.

McSpadden, who was also homeless, as well as on parole for arson and biting and punching police in separate incidents, at the time of the killing, will have to serve at least 21 years before he can apply for parole.

In exchange for his guilty plea, negotiated by senior deputy prosecutor Jeanna Sherrill and defense attorney Leslie Borgognoni, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Karen Whatley imposed the 30-year term to run concurrently with the 36-year prison sentence McSpadden received in May 2004 for arson and two counts of second-degree battery for attacking deputies while in jail.

McKuin, 39, of Maynard was found dead about a week before Thanksgiving near a homeless camp in woods by Interstate 440 and Springer Boulevard.

Records show McKuin was wanted by the police for having absconded from parole four months earlier, after having been released from prison in February 2021 on a four-year sentence from Jackson County for possession of drug paraphernalia.

McSpadden, who was found nearby, was arrested after witnesses Dennis Ray Flowers, 56, and Charles Shelly, 63, told police they had seen McSpadden stab McKuin multiple times following an argument, court filings show. Shelly described seeing McSpadden attack McKuin with a "machete."

Adam Yeary, who called 911 to report the attack, told police that he did not see what happened but that McSpadden had come up to him and said he "just took care" of McKuin. Yeary, 32, said when he asked what McSpadden meant, McSpadden said he'd "cut" McKuin. Yeary said he walked over, found McKuin's body and called for help, according to court records.

McSpadden, who had been approved for parole in January 2021, has been jailed since his arrest. State doctors who examined McSpadden pursuant to a court order found he was fit to stand trial, diagnosing him as not being mentally ill but rather faking the symptoms of mental illness.

In 2001, McSpadden was part of a class-action federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union over how long jail inmates with suspected mental illness have to wait until the State Hospital can arrange a mental evaluation. Criminal proceedings must be put on hold for defendants believed to be mentally ill until they can be examined by a state-appointed psychologist or psychiatrist.

In his May 2002 ruling, U.S. District Judge Stephen Reasoner found that extended delays violated jail inmates' constitutional rights to due process, causing suffering that amounted to "punishment." The judge noted in his ruling that McSpadden was made to wait 10 months before seeing a doctor while the average delay was eight months.

The judge's findings resulted in a September 2002 settlement that required the state to shorten wait times and the State Hospital doubling its bed space devoted to defendants awaiting examination from 32 to 64.

Between the ages of 7 and 11, he was hospitalized five times, receiving diagnoses of bipolar disorder, organic mood disorder, drug addiction and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disorders, among others.

He was found to have mild mental retardation, possibly due to brain damage from a childhood accident, and had been prescribed lithium, antidepressant imipramine and the mood stabilizer Tegretol, at different times.

As evidence of his problems, doctors noted that at age 4, he burned down his first house while playing with matches and that he talked about the devil "a great deal." At 11, he threatened to kill his foster father. At 16, he told others he was going "to prove he was the world's deadliest assassin." He told psychologists after his arson arrest that he was "a can short of a six-pack," court records show.

McSpadden was hospitalized three more times between the ages of 15 and his arson arrest in February 2000. He'd been out of his last hospital for about three weeks when he set the Jacksonville foster home on fire.

McSpadden wavered about claiming responsibility for the arson, court filings show.

He told some doctors that he'd helped set the fire, saying it was his idea but that he had suggested it to a foster brother who was mad because their foster parents were about to take the boy to a psychiatric hospital.

Describing how he used matches to set bed covers on fire, McSpadden blamed the blaze on the other boy, who was not charged, stating he would not have done it alone. He also at times denied involvement. However, he also told Jacksonville investigators that he had been mad and bored so he decided to set his dresser, bed and curtains on fire.

About three months after his arrest in May 2000, McSpadden punched a jail deputy in the face while ambushing her from behind, resulting in him being charged with second-degree battery.

He was found fit to stand trial on all charges in August 2000 after four mental examinations, three by state doctors and one by a doctor hired by the defense, all concluding he was sane.

McSpadden pleaded guilty to arson and second-degree battery four months later, but about 18 months passed before sentencing because his behavior in jail raised more concerns about his mental health, which resulted in more examinations and treatment, again with doctors finding him fit to stand trial.

In March 2002, then-Circuit Judge Willard Proctor initially imposed the maximum penalty -- 36 years. The judge said he was afraid McSpadden would some day get out of jail and "hurt somebody."

The judge, who had questioned whether McSpadden was truly competent for trial, had been interested in delaying sentencing to put McSpadden, then 19, in a residential treatment facility where he would receive supervision, medication, housing and the care of a psychiatrist.

But that would have required McSpadden wait until a bed in such a facility was available and McSpadden declined, telling the judge, "I'm going to go ahead and get my time over."

But McSpadden's lawyers continued to push for a lesser sentence that would involve treatment, and in September 2002 the judge suspended the sentence to allow his public defenders to search for a residential psychiatric facility as a possible alternative to prison.

Because State Hospital experts originally found McSpadden competent to stand trial, he could not be sent there for treatment. He was too old to be sent to juvenile facilities, and many adult facilities refused to take him because of his crime.

Due to a diagnosis of mild intellectual disability, McSpadden was found to be eligible for a lock-down monitoring program with the judge set to order him to serve 25 years on probation and in the program.

While jailed awaiting enrollment, McSpadden picked up his second second-degree battery charge for attacking another deputy, one who had come to pick up his meal tray, in December 2002. McSpadden bit the officer on the right thigh, hand and foot, court records show.

While awaiting the resolution of that new case, McSpadden, his mental health called into question again, was placed into a rehabilitation program in August 2003. He got kicked out three months later due to making racist threats, running away, disobeying program operators and trying to organize dissent among fellow patients.

Again deemed fit to stand trial by state doctors, McSpadden pleaded guilty to that second-battery charge with the judge imposing the original 36-year sentence in May 2004.

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