A Pulaski County jury on Friday cleared a 38-year-old North Little Rock man accused of murdering a man at a drug house four years ago.
The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated an hour to acquit Braylon Antoine Sisk on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault, bringing an end to the three-day trial before Circuit Judge Karen Whatley.
When Whatley read the verdict, the 10-member audience of Sisk's friends and family leaped to their feet with applause and shouts before they were quickly admonished by the judge to silence.
Sisk was charged in the killing 55-year-old John Sydney Gill Jr. at Gill's West 18th Street home and shooting at another resident, 38-year-old Nikki Marie Reed, in April 2019. Sisk was arrested about six weeks later after Reed identified him as the man she saw shoot Gill.
Defense attorney Brian Lee Johnson of Hot Springs told jurors that the "drugged-out" Reed was a methamphetamine addict whose recollection could not be trusted. In closing arguments on Friday, Johnson told jurors that prosecutors had promised to prove Sisk guilty but failed to live up to that pledge.
"Braylon Sisk doesn't have to prove anything," Johnson said. "The state of Arkansas made a lot of promises. They didn't live up to it. They didn't prove their case."
He further criticized the police investigation that led to Sisk's arrest as sloppy and careless for not seeking out a man named Leon,who might have a reason to kill Gill, or another man, "Southwest Larry" or "Southside Larry," rumored to be the killer. No physical evidence tied Sisk to the killing, he noted, with investigators overlooking potential DNA evidence that could have led them to the real killer, he said. Also, a video from a neighbor's home said to be of the killer fleeing shows a man taller than his client, the attorney said.
"This case has come down to a lack of police work," Johnson said, describing the investigation as "flat-out bad." "What kind of police work is this? Nobody did the police work they were supposed to do."
Reed didn't come forward willingly, only speaking with police after she'd been arrested for violating her probation on a drug possession charge, Johnson said. She had a motive to lie, covering up her and Gill's involvement in an earlier episode where they had threatened Leon with an axe, the attorney said.
Johnson said defense witnesses Jamia Hughes, 32, and Coy Evan Rainey Jr., 45, were much more believable than Reed. Hughes testified that she had been at Gill's home -- a "trap house" where illegal drugs were regularly sold and consumed -- to buy methamphetamine and saw Gill get shot. Hughes said the killer was named "Southside Larry."
She said Reed was nowhere around then, telling jurors that Reed was a liar who had been put up to frame Sisk by another tenant on the property, 46-year-old Kelvin Poole. Hughes said she left the house because there was nothing she could do for Gill, and never told police what she'd seen because she "never" talks to law enforcement.
Rainey, who had also been living on the property, told jurors that Sisk had been at the residence earlier but was not there when Gill was killed.
Rainey, known as June, said Sisk had stopped by to see him but drove off before he could go outside. Testifying in a prisoner's uniform because he's serving a five-year term for drug trafficking, Rainey told jurors he tried to follow Sisk on his moped but couldn't keep up with Sisk's sport utility vehicle, telling jurors that when he lost sight of Sisk, he returned home to find police at the house investigating Gill's murder.
Prosecutors told jurors they didn't have to rely on just Reed's account of seeing Gill killed.
They said her story was backed up by evidence she could not have known existed when she identified Sisk as the killer, video recordings that show the killer where she said she saw him and dressed like she said she'd seen him.
Further, his cellphone was shown to be active in the area around the time of the killing while a city license plate reader recorded his SUV a mile from Gill's residence, just minutes after the killing.
That recording shows the SUV passing some of the emergency medical personnel who were en route to the West 18th Street home.
"Maybe Nikki was on meth but AT&T wasn't on meth. The license plate readers weren't on meth," deputy prosecutor Michelle Quillen said in closing arguments.
Her description of seeing Gill shot was also confirmed by the location of bullet casings police found in the residence, Quillen said. In contrast, Hughes' account is mostly contradicted by the evidence, beginning with the time of the murder to her claim the killer fired only one shot while the sounds of two gunshots were recorded on video, the prosecutor said.
"This case comes down to doing the right thing and that's what Nikki Reed did," senior deputy prosecutor Jeanna Sherrill said in her final remarks.
Sherrill acknowledged that Reed had left the scene before police arrived, with investigators only finding her once she's been arrested for violating her probation. But Sherrill asked jurors to consider Reed's demeanor on the witness stand, how obviously moved she was by seeing Gill killed, how scared she was when the killer pointed the gun at her and how regretful she was about leaving before authorities arrived, even more than four years after the murder.
"She's been consistent since Day One. She was 100 percent sure then and she's 100 percent sure now [Sisk is the killer,]" Sherrill told jurors.
"Mr. Gill was living in a dangerous situation but the law still protects Mr. Gill. He touched one person to care ... to care enough to tell police the truth ... to come forward four years later to come tell you the truth."
Sisk, who has more than 14 prior convictions, mostly for drugs, did not testify. He was on parole on an 18-year prison sentence for drug possession when Gill was killed. He was an animated presence during the trial, frequently waving or motioning to Johnson to consult with him about evidence or testimony.
In his final remarks, Johnson told jurors that if they thought that he and his client had been arguing during the proceedings that was not so. Calling Sisk a "really good friend," Johnson said Sisk knew the case against him better than anyone and was actively participating in his own defense.
The trial appeared to hit a brief snag on Thursday after one juror told courthouse guards that she had heard one of Sisk's supporters make a questionable remark about Reed to Sisk. A second juror was said to have possibly overheard the first juror talking to security.
The disclosure prompted the judge to convene a bench conference where she and the lawyers could question the two women without the audience overhearing. The women were allowed to remain on the jury when Sisk did not object to them continuing to serve.
Sisk became a suspect after Reed identified his twin brother as having been present during the shooting. Reed said she'd never seen the man before that day but had heard he was known as "Shorter Garden Twin."
Police quickly learned that Sisk's twin, Brandon Taiwon Sisk, is in federal prison serving a five-year sentence for methamphetamine trafficking. During further questioning, Reed said Shorter Garden Twin was the man she saw shoot Gill. Brandon Sisk is due for release in July 2026.