After deliberating a total of 45 minutes Thursday afternoon, a Jefferson County Circuit Court jury found a Pine Bluff man guilty of beating his sister and her boyfriend, who later died from his injuries at a Little Rock hospital.
The jury of seven women and five men recommended the maximum sentence for each crime.
Allen Claggett, 44, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Henry L. Johnson Jr., 57, who was taken to Jefferson Regional Medical Center, then flown to UAMS where he underwent two brain surgeries before dying in hospice care 11 days after the June 2, 2017, beating. Claggett was also convicted of beating his sister, Nancy Cleggett, whose eye was blackened and face and lips were swollen.
Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis sentenced Allen Claggett to 60 years in prison on the second-degree murder allegation, plus imposed a $15,000 fine. He was sentenced to one year in the Jefferson County jail on the misdemeanor domestic battery charge with the two sentences to run concurrently.
“The defendant unmercifully beat a 57-year-old man who was physically handicapped and incapable of defending himself,” said Deputy Prosecutor Bryan Achorn, who, along with Deputy Prosecutor Carol Billings, represented the state during the one-day trial Thursday.
“When the jury gave the defendant the maximum sentence, they spoke for the community and said this kind of conduct is not going to be tolerated.”
The incident began when an ambulance and first responders were sent to 1711 S. Hickory St. after Nancy Claggett called to say that Johnson had had a seizure.
Fire and Emergency Services Engineer Antonio Scott, who has been on the job for 13 years, made contact with Nancy Claggett and Johnson at the house, and an ambulance was called because firefighters “could not provide the level of service Johnson needed,” which included blood and fluid leaking from his ears, according to testimony.
Police were also called, and Detective Jeremy Oswalt was assigned to the case. Oswalt said he went to the house and recorded a statement from Nancy Claggett, and based on that statement, arrested Allen Claggett the next day. Allen Claggett was not interviewed by police because Oswalt said he was “irate.”
Testifying for the state, Nancy Claggett said Johnson had been her boyfriend for about eight years, and late in the evening of June 2, 2017, Allen Claggett, whom she called Eddie, knocked on the window before coming into the house.
Once inside, he accused Johnson of beating his sister. She said she told her brother that Johnson had not hit her, and Allen Claggett began to beat her before turning to Johnson and hitting him in the face, causing Johnson to fall off the bed and onto the floor, where Allen Claggett stomped him.
“Who did you tell the lady policeman hit you?” Achorn asked Nancy Claggett, who replied, “My brother, Allen.”
“Who did you tell the detective hit you?” Achorn asked Nancy Claggett, who again replied, “My brother, Allen.”
She also said she wanted to call for help immediately, but Allen Claggett would not give her the cell phone for several hours; it was late morning when she was able to call an ambulance.
“I could not be more proud of the other victim, Nancy Claggett, and the amount of courage that she displayed throughout this entire incident,” Achorn said.
When asked during her testimony, Nancy Claggett pointed out her brother, who was sitting at the defense table with his court-appointed attorney, Keith Hall. Allen Claggett did not testify in his own defense.
Before the attack, Johnson, who stood 5-feet 6-inches tall, had suffered at least one stroke, leaving him without the full use of his right hand. He also had slurred speech and lacked the ability to walk well. An order of protection had been issued against Allen Claggett on behalf of Johnson, and he was not supposed to have any contact with him.
Claggett stood at least 6-feet 4 inches tall and weighed in excess of 200 pounds at the time of the incident.
Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Erickson, who performed the autopsy on Johnson, said that doctors at UAMS removed part of Johnson’s skull after discovering blood on the brain and performed surgery to drain the blood, then had to go back a second time when additional bleeding was discovered.
In both his opening statement and closing argument, Hall contended that Claggett did not intend to kill Johnson, nor did he mean to cause serious injuries to him, describing the incident as a fight between two men.
“If it was a fight, it was a one-sided fight with one person dealing the blows and the other two scared for their lives,” Achorn said during his closing argument. “This was one of the most senseless and brutal crimes that I have ever been charged with prosecuting.”