The killing of Ernest Hoskins: a matter of intent 

In November 2012, Ernest Hoskins was shot and killed by his boss during a business meeting. With the killer now charged with manslaughter, a family's search for justice highlights the often blurry line between recklessness and murder.

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After eating breakfast and waiting around for a repairman, Monica Hoskins said, Ernest went to pay a traffic ticket, then headed to Ward for his meeting. Nikki said Ernest — who usually texted her throughout the day, just so she'd know he was thinking about her — called her that afternoon, while she was on a break from her job.

"He told me, 'Well, babe, I'm about to walk into this meeting. I'll call you as soon as I get out of the meeting. I love you.' " Nikki said. "That was the last time I ever talked to him."

What your heart deserves

At almost a foot long, the Israel Military Industries Desert Eagle is one of the largest semi-automatic handguns in the world. Available in several large calibers, it's built around a gas-operated firing mechanism that bears more in common with an assault rifle than the automatic pistols most cops carry on the beat. If you've ever seen "The Matrix," you'll recognize it. The agents chasing Neo carry Desert Eagles — hand-cannons that weigh well over 5 pounds when fully loaded with fingertip-sized shells. From where Ernest Hoskins was sitting when Chris Reynolds drew down on him and pulled the trigger during their business meeting, the black eye of the barrel would have looked like an abyss.  

With the investigative file locked in the prosecutor's desk drawer and Reynolds' trial still two months away, it's hard to know exactly what happened inside Reynolds' house on Deer Run Drive in Ward just before 2 p.m. that day. It makes one appreciate how nuanced determining intent in a homicide case is — what peoples' faces looked like, body language, whether their voices were raised or calm — things that will never translate to an arrest affidavit.

Several attempts to reach witnesses Melissa Peoples (now Melissa Gov), Brian Washington and Rachel Watson were unsuccessful. Monica Hoskins said she was able to talk to witness Brian Washington several months ago. According to Hoskins, Washington told her that Reynolds and Ernest were not arguing or angry before Ernest was shot. He recalled Chris telling Ernest that his sales were low, to which Ernest replied with the line in the statement Reynolds eventually signed: "Why don't you get off the couch and help us?" After that, all Washington remembered, Hoskins said, was the concussion and flash of the gunshot, which he said knocked him out of his chair.

A fuller picture was supplied by Rachel Watson when she appeared in January with Nikki Hoskins in a video interview with thegrio.com, the NBC News website that provides coverage targeted to an African-American audience. Nikki said she and Watson have become friends since Watson reached out to her on Facebook to tell her side of the story. The Arkansas Times left several messages for Watson, but they were not returned.

In the interview with The Grio, Watson said that the day of the shooting, she was at Reynolds' house for a job interview. After she, Washington, Gov, and Hoskins arrived, the five of them went into Chris Reynolds' kitchen and sat down, then Reynolds began talking to them about their sales.

"He started going at Ernest about his sales, and how he wasn't doing very well with his sales," Watson told the interviewer. "Then they kind of argued a little bit. That's when he pulled out his gun [from] right behind him. ... It was underneath his counter in, like, a basket. I didn't see it until he pulled it out."

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