After a full day of jury selection Tuesday that resulted in seven women, five men and two male alternates being seated, the capital murder trial they were to hear in Jefferson County Circuit Court was over before it got started Wednesday.
Kevin Rauls, 28, had pleaded not guilty to multiple charges stemming from an incident on Sept. 10, 2017, that resulted in the death of Roderick Burnett, 29, and injuries to Douglas Porter, 22, both of Pine Bluff.
He changed his plea to guilty Wednesday.
While the court waited for a juror who had overslept Wednesday morning, Little Rock attorney Bill James, who had been hired to represent Rauls, was meeting with Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter and Deputy Prosecutor Bryan Achorn trying to work out a plea agreement.
After about an hour, Rauls, accompanied by James, entered the courtroom, where Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis said she had been informed that Rauls wanted to change his plea. Rauls responded by saying, “yes.”
After Rauls said he did not want to continue the trial, Dennis went through the agreement, which called for Rauls to plead guilty to one count of second-degree murder, a Class A felony and reduced from capital murder, a Class Y felony in the death of Burnett, one count of first-degree battery, a Class B felony for the injuries to Porter, one count of terroristic threatening, a Class Y felony, one count of terroristic threatening, a Class B felony, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, also a Class B felony.
The judge also told Rauls that if he had gone to trial, the state would have pursued the capital murder charge. The death penalty had been waived, meaning that if the jury had found Rauls guilty, his only possible sentence would have been life in prison without the possibility of parole.
As an habitual offender, with four prior felony convictions, Rauls could have received up to 60 years in prison on the second-degree murder count but was sentenced to 45 years. On the Class Y terroristic threatening charge, the punishment range was from 10 years to life. He was sentenced to 16 years. On the other charges, the punishment range was from five to 40 years in prison, and Rauls was sentenced to 16 years each, meaning one 45 year sentence and four 16 year sentences.
Those sentences will run concurrently with each other, and consecutively, or after the 45-year sentence for a total of 61 years in prison.
Hunter said Rauls will have to serve half of that sentence, or 30 and-a-half years, before being eligible to apply for parole but could reduce the sentence to one quarter, or just under 16 years if he earns the maximum amount of good time available to him in prison.
Twenty-two additional counts of Class B terroristic threatening were dismissed as a part of the plea agreement.
The shooting occurred on the parking lot of the car wash next to the Sonic Drive-In in the 2400 block of Olive Street, an area Hunter said was frequently busy with traffic and an area where previous violence, including other shootings, had occurred.
Had there been a trial, witnesses were expected to testify that Burnett, who was driving a white 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe, pulled into one of the car wash stalls, got out with a handgun, and fired shots at a dark-colored Nissan Altima driven by Rauls, which had also pulled onto the parking lot of the car wash.
After Burnett fired at the Nissan, Rauls got out with an AK-47 rifle and fired multiple shots at the Chevrolet Tahoe, with bullets striking both Burnett and Porter. Burnett was pronounced dead at Jefferson Regional Medical Center, and Porter was treated and released.
Police reported recovering more than 60 shell casings that had been fired from both handguns and a rifle on the parking lot of the car wash.
As a condition of the plea agreement, Rauls was ordered to have no contact with Burnett’s family, Porter or the others.
Commenting on the change of plea by Rauls, Achorn said that the in life, and in the criminal justice system, people will frequently put off making decisions until the last minute, as was the case here.
He added that under Hunter, prosecutors are committed to seeking justice for the victims of crime and to holding suspects responsible for their actions. Achorn said he believed that when Rauls saw the witnesses lined up to testify against him, “he saw the writing on the wall.”
Rauls, who has been held at the adult detention center since being arrested Sept. 15, 2017, will receive jail time credit to be determined.
Porter, who was prepared to testify against Rauls, is currently being held at the Pine Bluff Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections after his probation was revoked last year stemming from a robbery conviction in 2015. He will be eligible to apply for parole next year.