Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
This is the second cover-length installment of the Arkansas Times' Homicide Diary series, in which we feature the voices of those touched by murder in Little Rock — those who have lost someone to violence, those who deal with the aftermath, or those who try to keep young people alive by urging them to find a way to solve their differences other than a bullet. The project arose out of a sense of frustration, the feeling that there were vast numbers of people in this city who just didn't seem to care. Over the past year, we've found people who do. We've tried to share their stories, in their own words. We plan to continue with the series indefinitely, printing new installments as we're able.
So far this year, there have been 39 homicides in Little Rock. Six of them remain officially unsolved. The vast majority of the victims were young black men killed with handguns in the neighborhoods south of Interstate 630.
It's easy to be cynical about some of these killings — especially when it comes to those victims who may have been caught up in crime and paid for it with their young lives. When stories like that appear online, the anonymous comments inevitably include variations on one tired line: "Live by the sword, die by the sword." Nobody, it seems, ever stops to wonder who put the sword in that young man's hand, or why he might have seen living by it — even though he surely knew that death and ruin walked with him every step — as his only option.
Great uncle of Braylon Moore, who died on Oct. 19 after being shot the previous night.
An 11th grader at McClellan High School, Braylon Moore, 16, was shot in the head at the corner of 24th and Schiller streets near the Arkansas State Fairgrounds on Oct. 18, during what appears to have been an altercation that started at the State Fair and spilled over into nearby streets. Moore lingered on life support for several hours before his family made the decision to turn off the machines. His death marked a bloody night in Little Rock, which also saw the murder of Brandon Fountain, 21, who was found shot to death in the back seat of a car near 28th and Wolfe streets, a few blocks from where Moore was shot. Moore's family later told a local TV station that Moore and Fountain were raised "like cousins." Fountain was the city's 37th homicide of 2014, and Moore was the 38th. At this writing, there have been no arrests in either murder. Braylon Moore's great-uncle, Rickey Jackson, was cooking supper when we knocked at his home on South Battery Street, standing in his warm kitchen and keeping an eye on his grandson, a doe-eyed toddler who seemed intent on getting into everything. Jackson had done the same for both Braylon Moore and Brandon Fountain when they were that age.
He was a good kid. Very active in church, and in his school activities. He did well in school. Everybody liked him. You could tell that by the attendance at the funeral.
I don't know how many people came out for the funeral exactly, but the church was full. I don't know the capacity of First Baptist Church at Ninth and Calhoun. That's where he was a member. He was active in the Sunday school and the youth choir. I never talked to him about what he wanted to be once he finished high school and college, but he had the potential to be anything that he wanted to be: doctor, lawyer, psychologist, whatever. I feel like he could have done that. But he won't have that opportunity now.
We'd had a talk with Braylon the weekend before he was shot, about being with the wrong crowd. I got a call at 11 p.m. on that Saturday night saying that he'd been shot and that they were taking him to the hospital. His mom called me. I got another call at about 3:15 that Sunday morning, telling me that he'd passed away. There was nothing they could do for him. He was probably already dead, with them shooting him in the head. I think it hit his brain stem.
I don't know exactly how all that came about the night that he was shot. I'm just going by what people are telling me: that he got into some kind of fight inside the fairgrounds and from there they went outside the fairgrounds, over to 24th and Schiller. They said he was fighting somebody, and somebody walked up and shot him in the head. Now, with all these people standing around, somebody saw the person that shot. But nobody is coming forward.
My godson, Brandon Fountain, was also shot that night — at 28th and Wolfe. That same night, within 30 minutes of my nephew. I kept Brandon from the time he was a baby until he was a teenager. I always kept him. I don't know what he may have been into. I don't know what either one of them may have been into in the streets, because we don't ever know. But we do know that we try to teach them and we try to talk to them and whether they take heed to it or not is on them.
They haven't made an arrest in either one of those shootings. I'm very concerned about that. I don't really believe they're investigating like they should. Whoever it was needs to be arrested, because I feel like that person is going to do some more shooting and killing. I feel like they may be connected. It happened too close, and it happened in almost the same area. We just don't know.
There's so much crime happening in the south end of Little Rock. They don't act like they care about this part of town anyway. If it's not West Little Rock, then nothing is being done. That's the way it's always felt to me. When things happen on this side of town, they sweep it under the rug. They forget about us.
Braylon's death is something that never should have happened. But you can't control what goes on. If I could, I'd put a stop to all of it. Not just for my family, but for all the families, because somebody else is going to be hurt the same way we are. There should be a message in Braylon's death for all young people. They should take heed to what happened to him, and try to steer their lives in a different direction. Don't get involved with all these different people — street people, gang people. Whatever they are, they need to stay away from all that.
It wasn't like this in my time. It's a totally different day now. I don't know what happened. Changing with the times, I guess. I was raised the right way. I believe in God. I believe in "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Everybody needs to have that attitude. The world would be a much better place.
I'm not sure how you fix this. I think law enforcement needs to get more involved than what they are. We pay taxes for them to ride around in their cars all over town and run red lights. So I feel like they should channel that energy into finding these individuals.
I plan on going down to the Little Rock Police Department next week and talking to somebody in their detective unit, just to find out what they're doing to investigate this and find who this killer is. I don't feel like they're doing much. Sometimes I believe they just think, "OK, that's just another one gone. Next."
Pastor to Marcus Tidwell, who was murdered on Oct. 17
After every service at Canvas Community United Methodist Church on Seventh Street, after the sermon, after they sing, after they pray for the leaders of the country, the state, the city and the church, the homeless gathered there pray for the souls who have gone on to glory, including Marcus Tidwell. Tidwell, 39, had been among downtown Little Rock's homeless for years when he was killed on Oct. 17 at 100 N. Chester St. Police say that during an altercation, Eric Leon Green, 45 — another homeless man who had attended events at Canvas from time to time — bashed Tidwell's head into the pavement until he died. Green was soon arrested, and remains in the Pulaski County Regional Detention Center, on a single count of first-degree murder.
I think I first saw Marcus down at the corner of Cross and Third. He was this gigantic African-American man. He always stayed outside there. I never saw him inside the Sally [Salvation Army], but always down there. I remember wondering about him, because he always had this childlike innocence about him. After we got to know him, we found out that there were some severe mental handicaps there. That appearance of being childlike was probably pretty authentic. He was very childlike.
We called him Big Juicy. I don't know who started calling him that, and I don't know if I really want to look into why he was called that. I don't know if it was his willingness or his ability to be clean, but he had some pretty significant bowel issues. Marcus smelled very, very bad all the time. That's something we're used to.
My first real memory of Marcus was that I was preaching, and he had fallen asleep and he was snoring. I remember seeing him and thinking, "Gosh, I really feel like I'm better than that. I feel like I'm more engaging than that, but I guess I'm not." [Laughs.] From what I heard, he was falling asleep because he was spending most of his nights protecting himself. Not a lot of sleep involved in that.
We've got a lot of people who come in who are really difficult to handle — belligerent, drunk, angry. Marcus was always pretty nice. He never caused any problems. But he was always around. Any time I'd come to the church, he was always standing around outside. This is going to sound really, really bad, but after a couple of months of that, it started to get on my nerves. He was always around and he was never doing anything to help himself. I really started to build up a resentment toward him, and then I realized I was a jackass for that. So, one day, I was out front and I stopped, turned and looked at him and I said, "Marcus, what are you doing here? Why are you outside on the street?" He gave me some reasons. He'd been kicked out of some shelters and things like that, and I said, "You know what? I'm going to help you. I'm going to do everything I can to get you off the street. Do you have an ID? Do you have any felonies? Do you have anything? Be completely honest with me."
That sent me on about a month or two-month journey to try to help Marcus, because I realized that my job is not to be irritated. It's to do what I can to sort of sacrifice myself to help people. So it was sort of a learning point for me, to help me get over myself. I spent a significant amount of time talking to Marcus, trying to figure out what he was all about, trying to figure out his story, trying to figure out why he was on the street, trying to figure out why he wasn't getting off the street.
I think Marcus had been treated in such a way that I'm not certain that he was willing to be vulnerable enough to really reveal who he was. It seemed, based just on the way that he talked and the things he said, that he hadn't ever been widely accepted. To truly reveal yourself is to open yourself up to a lot of pain. There was this distinct feeling that I wasn't getting straight answers a lot of the time. That's a normal thing for us, but it was particularly heartbreaking with Marcus because there was this distinct sense of isolation there.
I remember the last time I saw Marcus, he was here at church, using the bathroom, and he was in there for probably 25 minutes. We had people waiting. We were trying to shut down from dinner and a movie, and he just wouldn't come out. I finally got him to open the door, and he didn't have his shirt on. He was in there taking a bath in the sink. I said: "Man, come on, let's wrap this up, we want to get out of here." That was a Wednesday, and I want to say it was either that Thursday or the next Thursday that he was murdered, by another guy that we knew.* Eric's been here several times, and there were people in our church who knew him even better. If I remember him correctly, Eric was kind of a tough dude. We don't have anybody in here who I'd say I'd just never be around. Once you sort of get past those first couple of layers, it's really easy to get to know who a person is. I can remember Eric being here. I think I can remember him playing dominoes.
It was an unfortunate end to that. It really bothered me that I wasn't able to help Marcus. It's frustrating, because I spent so much time getting to know him and trying to get him off the street. And then for that to happen is heartbreaking. It haunts me. There's sort of a two-way street there. You can't force somebody to get better. I have to be willing to give what I can give to help someone, but that person also has to be willing to accept help. So I put forth a fair amount of effort with Marcus to get a straight answer on who he was and what he needed. I'm not sure how much of what I got done was helpful at all. Sometimes I feel it wasn't helpful at all because Marcus isn't with us anymore. It was difficult when I found out about his death. I kind of felt like I'd failed him.
We have a lot of people we pray for in this church, because we have a lot of people who have committed suicide and a lot of people who have died. We haven't had many homicides since I've been here. We have had many suicides, however. We try to do moments of silence or funerals for people that we've lost, because if not us, then who is going to remember that they were part of this world? You know what I mean? If not us, who is going to ever remember that Marcus Tidwell ever existed? I think if he had been a state senator, or a well-spoken newspaper reporter, or a photographer or a pastor — had it been me — I think people would have paid a lot more attention to it. But because he was a low-income, African-American homeless person, by and large the city of Little Rock has moved on. Because it was a person from a group that we're more comfortable ignoring because of how uncomfortable it is to think about them, I think it's more digestible. The death of somebody like Marcus sits easier on our stomachs that the death of somebody like me or you. I think that, in and of itself, is very dangerous. I think our priorities are a little askew.
Martin Buber, the great German theologian, wrote a book called "I and Thou." It's a profoundly difficult book to understand, but the basis of the book is that there are basically two types of relationships. There's the I/Thou relationship and the I/It relationship. The I/Thou relationship is what you and I have. I recognize you as David and you recognize me. Then there's the I/It relationship. If we had that, I wouldn't recognize you as a Thou or a peer. I'd recognize you as almost inhuman. I think the ability of Little Rock to move on so easily from deaths like this shows that there's an I/It relationship between people in Little Rock. I don't think that's just the upper class. That spans into the lower class, across all people. There are just some people that we don't see as Thou. We see them as It. Usually, they're people we don't feel like dealing with.
Marcus was an empty glass, and there didn't seem to be any capacity to pour back in. He always took. One of the things we believe here is that we're being filled when we worship. We're allowing ourselves to be filled. That's one of my biggest problems with Christianity: There's a whole lot of "fill me up" and not a lot of pour out. That's a whole bunch of crap.
With Marcus, I can't help but question myself and whether I poured enough. I don't know that there's any benefit to speculating about that. I know I poured a lot more than others would. But I don't know if what others would do is any kind of standard.
*EDITOR'S NOTE: After this article went to press, Ferguson contacted Arkansas Times to say that he is reserving judgment on Eric Green's guilt or innocence until the matter is decided in court, and didn't intend to imply he believes Green is guilty of the murder of Marcus Tidwell.
Daughter of Kenneth Patterson, killed on April 18 at 224. E. 7th St.
The murder of Kenneth Patterson, 61, came in the middle of the bloodiest month Little Rock has seen in decades — 11 homicides in 30 days, starting with the killing of Ronald Johnson on April 3 and ending with the death of Jason Harris on April 29 (another April victim, Bryan Fountain, was shot on April 25, but didn't pass away until May 5). According to a police incident report, Ervin called police after finding her father's body in a bedroom, his throat slashed. Her mother, Marilyn Patterson — who Ervin said had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder years before — was on a couch in the living room with a self-inflicted wound to her right wrist. Marilyn Patterson survived, and is currently being held in the Pulaski County Regional Detention Center.
My first memory of him was probably when I was 2 or 3. We lived in a house on Abigail Street. I remember running to my dad and he picked me up in the air. He kept his hair in an Afro and he always had a beard. I've never seen him any other way in my life, and that's the way he is in that memory.
My memories of him are of music. Always some kind of music. A guitar in his hand, or he's practicing, or he's rehearsing. When I think of my childhood, I think of music. He went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for a couple of years, and while there in Fayetteville, he was in a band that he continued to be in through his young adult years. Joy. J-O-Y. Joy Band. They were popular. They even opened for Chaka Khan.
He loved music. He played the guitar and could sing. He could play the piano a little bit, but guitar was his main thing. He and his brother and some guys who were like brothers started the band. They were all at the funeral and told all about it. When I was a little girl, I used to go to the rehearsals and everything. My mom loved music, and I was always around it. Later on, he went on to work for AP&L in the '80s, climbing utility poles. He took pride in his work. Then, he kind of retired from everything to be a full-time caregiver to my mom when I was a little girl.
My mom was his heart. He loved her. I think they met in college, but don't quote me on that. You'd have to ask their friends. They were married for 40 years, and he would do anything for my mom. Back in the early '80s, before my memories, my mom had a nervous breakdown. She used to be a teacher, but she had a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She was unable to work and function in a regular setting, so that was why my dad quit AP&L to stay home with her. All my life, I've known her with mental illness. It's hard.
My dad was very caring. I was a daddy's girl. He would call, and we'd talk about the Razorbacks. He really loved the Razorbacks. His laugh could fill a room. It's funny because my son laughs a lot like him. He reminds me of him. He was a good person with a great sense of humor. He kept a positive attitude. He was talented as a musician and he was the type of person to stand by his spouse. Just a good man overall. You'll only hear good things about him from the people who knew him.
I'm a person of faith, and I know that everything happens for a reason. I'm a believer in that, and that eventually the reasons are revealed to us some way. I know my dad is doing fine, wherever he is. I've spoken to him in my dreams. I just have to pray to God for peace.
There's too many happy memories of my mother and father to name. Them singing together, and laughing together. Cooking dinner together and inviting me over to eat. I used to take them to the store every fifth of the month, because they didn't have a vehicle. Together is just synonymous with who they are. "Together" is just them.
My happiest memory of them is: Every year they'd call me on my birthday, and they'd sing. If I wasn't there, they'd leave a message. They'd sing in harmony. It always tickled me. It was good! But it tickled me because they'd sing so seriously. They didn't have a lot of things financially. But they were content with each other.
Criminal defense attorney
Originally from Allegheny, N.Y., Patrick Benca is one of Little Rock's better-known criminal defense attorneys. An Air Force vet who came to Little Rock to stay in touch with his children after his former wife was transferred to the Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Benca stayed, graduating from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and later from the UA's William H. Bowen School of Law. Since passing the bar in 1999, he has defended over 30 clients accused of murder. Benca's first homicide trial was as a law school student, when he was asked to help prepare the defense of Chevy Kehoe, a white supremacist who was eventually sent to prison for life after being convicted in federal court of racketeering and the 1996 murders of Pope County gun dealer Bill Mueller, his wife, and her 8-year-old daughter. Kehoe's partner, Danny Lee, was sentenced to death in a separate trial.
I got a lot of second chances growing up. I won't say a lot, but I got enough to where I could see the benefit of someone getting a second chance. I guess I was mischievous. I hung out with the wrong crowd. I got in fights. I got speeding tickets all the time. But there were just people in my life who were there for me. So I like the idea of people getting second chances.
My job is to make sure that the system has been fair. Have the officers that have taken an oath done their job right? The interviews that took place: Were they correct, appropriate and constitutional? I just make sure that all the t's are crossed and all the i's are dotted, up to the point that someone was charged. If that's the case, then it makes my job easier in trying to explain to the client why they should consider a deal or not. That's the drive for me: to make sure the process is fair. No matter what side of the courtroom you're on — whether you're a judge, a prosecutor or a defense attorney — that's the goal of everyone involved, I would hope.
I enjoy it. It isn't very lucrative, but I enjoy it. For the most part, I can find either myself or someone I grew up with in that person, so there's a connection there. I could make more money doing something else. My wife says it, my mom says it, everyone says it. And I could. I just don't know if I could do anything else. Civil stuff? Doing personal injury stuff? Having all these rules with regard to sanctions and interrogatories and depositions? I can't wrap myself around that. Good for those who can. But I can't.
Have there been some people I have defended who were likely guilty, or who felt that they were guilty, and I was able to walk them? Yes. But I did my job, and someone along the way didn't do their job. Or — in all fairness to the other side and the officers — there just wasn't enough evidence there to close the door on the issue. Again, it goes back to my obligation and my oath. I have an obligation to do everything I can for that client. Lawyers, judges and appellate judges, they understand that. Good prosecutors understand that. They understand what my job is.
Again, it's not about what my client did. I think if you get yanked into that and start looking at it from a judging point of view, you're going to have problems. I go back to what I was taught and what my oath is: Look at the evidence. Make sure everything was done correctly. Will the state be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that my client is guilty of all the offenses? If we get to that point, then it gets to me having a candid conversation with my client about what he or she should be doing from this point forward.
With murder cases, most of them plead. What I do is, I sit down with them. I know that case backward and forward, and I say, "Here's what the elements are. They've got to prove this, that and this." I lay all the elements out and say they've got to prove these beyond a reasonable doubt. Then I start talking about the case file — the witnesses. "Witness A is going to say this. Witness B is going to say this. Witness C is going to say this. The state is going to put on evidence of that, maybe DNA. They're going to put on evidence of your statement. They're going to put on this and that." I lay it all out. "This is the prosecutor. This is a good prosecutor, who is very thorough. Here's the offer on the table. You'll be out in 14 years. Here are the possibilities if you decide to go to trial. You could get a life sentence." If I stay focused and pigeonhole it that way, I feel like I've done my job. It's my job to make sure I do a good presentation of the case so they can make their best decision possible for them, regardless of their guilt or innocence.
When they take a deal at 14 years, I'm sitting there thinking: OK, I have a 1-year-old right now. He's going to be 15 years old and telling me what time it is before this guy gets out. But that's not my decision.
I don't prefer doing homicide trials. Let's be real. It's pretty scary for anyone to get prepared to go in there and actually litigate a case where their guy is sitting there accused of murder. Would I rather have someone who is accused of committing a less serious offense? Sure I would, because there are a lot of things for a jury to overcome when you're talking about murder. You wonder, "Are they really going back there and saying, 'OK, I think he may have done it but I'm not all the way there to "beyond a reasonable doubt." But I don't feel good about him walking out of here if he may have done it, though'?" That's kind of a scary area. Do they really understand reasonable doubt, and will they really apply it? That's what you hope. When you're analyzing a case as an attorney, that's what you're thinking: "There's a 'might have' here, and 'might have' is not beyond a reasonable doubt. I get the concept, the prosecutor gets the concept, the judge gets it. But will those jurors get that concept?"
A lot of times, defense attorneys have to deal in mercy. I may never say the word "mercy" in a courtroom, but that's what I'm really asking for sometimes. That's the only way to explain it. Mercy is not something you earn. You can't earn it. You just hopefully get it sometimes. Is a lifetime in prison really necessary? You and I are different than we were 15 years ago. I'm a different person, and 10 years from now, I'll be a different person again. You just hope the jury understands that concept, and that the parole board will figure that out 10 years from now or 15 years from now. That's the best you can do. You hear people say: "I'm a Christian. Eye for an eye." I've read the Bible and I'm a Christian. And that's totally inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus.
I don't know. You have a choice. I don't get it. I don't have the desire to kill anyone, and I would never have that desire, ever. So how do you explain that in someone else? I don't know. It's hard.
I'm just here to make sure the system works. That's essentially my role. That's what helps me come in every day and not get caught up in it: I'm just here to make sure the system works. And if something along the way gets screwed up, it's my job to point that out — point it out to the judge, the jury, the prosecutor. I'm obligated to do that. Whatever happens after that, I just hope I've done the best I can. Just don't half-ass it. That's what my stepfather told me: If you don't half-ass it, everything will work out OK.
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