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Little Rock man found guilty of capital murder, sentenced to life

Marijuana debt led to slaying by John Lynch | September 2, 2022 at 3:20 a.m.
File photo

In Jason Bridges' view, killing Jeremy Parks wasn't murder, it was self-defense.

Likewise, taking Keelon Shorter's cash, phone and shoes wasn't an armed robbery, it was a "negotiation."

Bridges contends he was the real victim, swindled by the pair in a marijuana deal the week before then cruelly treated when he came calling for what he was owed, $40.

A Pulaski County jury who heard Bridges' account deliberated less than an hour Thursday to reject his version of events, and instead sided with Little Rock police and prosecutors who had charged the 21-year-old Little Rock man with capital murder, aggravated robbery and theft. A guilty verdict on the capital murder count left Circuit Judge Karent Whatley with only one sentence to impose, life in prison.

To prove capital murder, prosecutors had to show Parks had been killed during an armed robbery, deputy prosecutor Hannah Johnston told jurors.

"The gun makes this an aggravated robbery, and aggravated robbery is what makes this capital murder," she said in Thursday's closing arguments, urging jurors to reject Bridges' claim he was protecting himself when he killed Parks.

To believe Bridges' self-defense argument, jurors would have to believe that Bridges reasonably believed he was in danger and then only used the force necessary to protect himself, Johnston said. By his own admission, Bridges was the only one with a gun that day, she said.

There was never any question about who fatally shot Parks, 21, in front of the Parks-Shorter home on Milkyway Drive in May 2020. Parks and Shorter knew Bridges, and the two had bought $40 worth of marijuana from him at the house a week earlier, according to testimony. However, they paid him with fake money -- a double-cross that Shorter testified was unintentional.

Parks was killed in their next encounter a week later, with the roughly three-minute showdown between the three captured on a neighbor's surveillance video that was played for jurors.

The soundless recording shows Shorter standing by the curb in front of the home when a shirtless Bridges walks up to him. Shorter can be seen giving away his phone and money, $44, then taking off his shoes and handing them to Bridges who starts to walk away, footwear in hand.

But Bridges turns back and walks to the carport where Parks appears. There is contact between the two, then Parks falls as Shorter runs up and scuffles with Bridges, who quickly breaks away and runs off. He surrendered to police six days later after learning authorities were looking for him.

Shorter told jurors he was waiting for a ride to take him and Parks to apply for a job when Bridges, a pistol in his pocket, suddenly came up to him. He said Bridges first asked him where Parks was, then demanded that he empty his pockets and turn over his shoes when Shorter said that Parks didn't live there.

Shorter said he did as he was told and it seemed like Bridges was leaving until Parks walked out of the house, taking out the trash, and Bridges walked up to him by the carport, Shorter testified.

In the ensuing confrontation, Parks punched Bridges who first clubbed him with his pistol, before shooting Parks when he swung at Bridges again, Shorter said. He told jurors he ran up and began to grapple with Bridges over the gun but couldn't get the weapon away from him. Shorter broke down in tears as he recounted seeing his friend shot, describing how the wounded Parks crawled down the driveway to get away from Bridges. Parks' wounds -- a gunshot wound to his left upper back and left side -- were almost instantly fatal, according to medical testimony.

Bridges, who testified for about 44 minutes, told jurors he happened to see Shorter while driving by the man's home, saying he stopped to collect the money he was owed. He admitted he had a gun with him, telling jurors he carried a weapon everywhere for self-protection, but denied intentionally flaunting the pistol. He said he had tried to hide it unsuccessfully, acknowledging that he never saw the other men with guns.

What happened between him and Shorter was a "negotiation ... about what he owed me and what he had on him right then," Bridges told jurors. "I didn't ask him for anything. He gave it to me. I accepted what he offered. He owed me."

He said he started to leave with the cash and shoes but "out of the corner of my eye" he saw Parks appear by the carport.

They had once been close friends so he approached Parks because "I wanted an explanation for why he had treated me that way," Bridges said. He said Parks greeted him with a punch to the face, describing how he came to pull his gun in the ensuing struggle and the weapon fired.

"The gun went off. I did what I had to do," Bridges said, telling jurors he had found himself surrounded with nowhere to escape. Parks was in front of him while Shorter and Shorter's cousin, 24-year-old Alic Riney, were behind him.

"I feel like what I did was the only thing I could do. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't be here today," he said. "It [the gun] was not used until harm was put on me."

"Who's making all of the choices here? He's the reason Jeremy Parks is dead" chief deputy prosecutor John Johnson said.

Bridges made the decision to stop and confront his victims, Shorter and Parks, at their own home, the prosecutor said, calling the defendant a "predator" and the men his "prey." Then Bridges chose not to leave but go and confront Parks, Johnson said. Further, he chose to pull his weapon and fire at least five shots, two of which struck Parks, Johnson told jurors.

"Jeremy Parks is forever dead because of the choices he made. If he'd made different choices, Jeremy Parks would still be alive," the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Fernando Padilla told jurors his client was the only one fully honest with them, saying all Bridges was trying to do was collect what he was owed when he ended up in a life-threatening situation.

"He's getting his property back. It's not theft. If it's not theft, it's not aggravated robbery. If it's not aggravated robbery, it's not capital murder," Padilla said. "This man was outnumbered. This man was surrounded. This man was in fear of his life. This man acted in self-defense."

Print Headline: LR man, 21, receives life sentence in prison for ’20 capital murder

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