RISON – Court convened Tuesday morning in the Cleveland County Courthouse for the case of Timothy Sled on the charges of first-degree criminal mischief and interrupting operation of a vital public facility.
Sled was found guilty on both counts, which relate to a May 10, 2022, incident when a high-powered rifle bullet penetrated the silhouette of Cleveland County native son Johnny Cash on the Kingsland water tower. The precise location of the bullet hole in the groin area of the silhouette and the steady stream of water escaping from the tower made international news.
Sled was levied the minimum sentence of $5,000 for each count and $5,000 restitution. He was additionally charged $500 in court costs, totaling $15,500. The judge stated he could pay or go to jail. After some discussion among court officials and attorneys, the judge delayed sentencing until April 11 in order to allow Sled time to arrange payment.
Prosecutor Eric Marks began proceeding by addressing the jury for 20 minutes. While describing the alleged crime, Marks held the actual scope-mounted .308 weapon used in the May 10 incident. He stated "this case is about law" and how he felt it his responsibility to prove Sled knowingly committed the act of vandalism.
Following Marks' opening remarks, the defense asked to approach the bench. The jury sat in stone-faced silence while all four attorneys convened with the judge.
Defense Attorney Randee Molsbee stepped to the podium and told the jury how Sled's initial confession was untrue due to his attempt to protect the actual perpetrator of the crime.
The first witness for the prosecution was Loyd Purfoy, water operator for Kingsland at the time of the shooting. The photo from the Pine Bluff Commercial article about the incident published at the time was introduced into evidence as exhibit A.
Testimony proved the municipal water tower had to be "shut down" following the damage in order to effect repairs. Defense inquired as to the degree of service interruption incurred due to the incident. Purfoy's testimony stated a loss of potable water never occurred through the means of bypassing the tower and using well-pumps.
The next witness called by Marks was former Kingsland Mayor Luke Neal. Exhibit B presented was a billing statement showing repair costs to the city to patch the water tower hole. The total cost was $5,500. The city, however was only out the $1,000 insurance deductible. In a criminal mischief case the monetary statute for a crime becoming a felony is $1,000.
"You've got a town that hasn't had this kind of attention since Johnny Cash was actually there," Neal said. "What the town experienced that week was a degree of excitement we weren't used to. We were in the national spotlight. The downside is that it took a crime to raise that attention."
Defense had no questions and Neal stepped down.
The third testimony came from Brandon Wright, deputy sheriff in Cleveland County at the time of the incident. He stated that two gentlemen in Kingsland had seen a gray Dodge Charger in the area just prior to hearing a shot fired the night of the incident. He further said that upon inquiring of the local Kingsland Missionary Baptist Church, he was able to obtain security surveillance footage from their exterior camera. On the video, a gray Charger was identified around the same time as the shot was reported. In his testimony he estimated the distance of the shot to be approximately 150 yards.
Defense once more waived cross-examination of the witness.
The fourth witness for the prosecution was former lead investigator for the county Trey Gerard.
He said Sled had called the sheriff's office to make an appointment to talk about the May 10 incident and he spoke with Sled when he presented himself on May 13.
Holding a transcript of the interview, Gerard said, "He was adamant that he committed the act. I've interviewed a lot of people in my career and I believe what he told me." He further said that the Dodge Charger seen on camera was that of the defendant.
"I believe he did it," Gerard added.
He further quoted Sled as telling him in the interview that he did not know a bullet was chambered in the gun.
Defense's line of questioning attempted to mitigate that the rifle shot was intentional.
Cleveland County Investigator Josh Bolland came to the stand as prosecution's fifth witness. Being present at the time of Sled's May 13 interview, he corroborated Gerard's testimony.
Asked who he believed shot the water tower, he answered, "Mr. Sled." Asked why he thought that, he said, "Because he said he did."
He further stated how Cleveland County Sheriff Jack H. Rogers II had recovered the weapon used in the shooting.
The next witness called by the prosecutor was Dean Steelman. As a deacon of the church, he verified that the video surveillance footage had indeed come from the Kingsland Missionary Baptist Church.
The final witness for the prosecution was Rodgers. Asked about the .308 rifle admitted into evidence, Rodgers confirmed it was indeed the weapon involved in the case. He further reiterated Sled's confession during the May 13 interview and stated that Sled had borrowed the gun from Kingsland resident Bill Post.
He concluded saying, "I have no doubt in my mind that he [Sled] is the one who fired the shot."
Defense pursued the point that no ballistics tests were performed with the weapon and nothing was submitted to the crime lab for verification.
With that, the prosecution rested.
In 7 minutes, the jury returned with guilty verdicts on both counts.
Marks' summation referenced all items introduced into evidence and reiterated prior testimony.
Defense countered how the water supply was not severely impaired or at any time interrupted.
"I predicted we would set a land speed record for a verdict and we did with a seven-minute deliberation," Marks said. He further explained a settlement deal was offered to Sled up until 5 p.m. the previous afternoon to plead guilty and pay $5,500 in restitution with three years on probation. Sled did not accept the deal because he believed he would lose his job at Mill Creek of Arkansas if he pleaded guilty.
Marks concluded: "My position as prosecutor is Sled had every opportunity to take a probation offer. Now he is paying three times the penalty and is a twice-convicted felon. I consider that a win for Arkansas and the citizens of Cleveland County."