The Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday said Jefferson County Circuit Judge Alex Guynn did not err when he declined to use a jury instruction that the defense wanted in a murder case.
Attorneys for Aaron Crift, 36, had asked that Guynn add manslaughter to the list of jury instructions in Crift’s February 2017 capital murder trial in the June 22, 2016, killing of James Murray, 44.
Murray was shot in the head while standing on a porch at 315 W 15th Avenue and taken to Jefferson Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
A jury of six men and six women deliberated about an hour-and-a-half before finding Crift guilty of first-degree murder; the jury spent another 30 minutes before setting his punishment at 50 years in prison for the murder, along with another 15 years for using a firearm in the commission of the crime.
Crift will be required to serve 70 percent of that sentence before he is eligible to apply for parole.
During the trial, Deonne Logue, who had previously dated Murray but was at the time was dating Crift, testified that she and Crift had argued on the day of the shooting about a bag of her clothing that Murray had. She said Crift told her that he was going to go talk to Murray. She said she heard loud arguing and then a gunshot.
When Crift returned, he had a silver handgun with a black barrel.
Crift told her that he had shot Murray, then called another man for a ride and was taken to 1222 W. 14th Avenue, where he was found hiding in a closet under some clothes.
Writing for the appeals court, Chief Judge Rita Gruber said Guynn did not have to give the manslaughter instruction because Crift testified that he did not shoot Murray and did not go to the house that day, so he was either guilty of the offense he was charged with or was innocent.
“When a defendant makes a claim of innocence, no rational basis exists to instruct the jury on a lesser offense because a jury needs to determine only whether the defendant is guilty of the crime charged,” Gruber said in the ruling.
At the time of his arrest, Crift, who had 10 prior felony convictions, was listed as a parole absconder after he cut off an ankle monitor that had been placed on him in February after testing positive for cocaine use four times.