Was Dionte Parks mentally unable to understand the consequences of helping two fellow teens with a robbery-turned-homicide, or will the law find him guilty of being a willing accomplice in the robbery, kidnapping and murder of his neighbor Kaleb Watson more than two years ago in Fort Smith?
A Sebastian County jury is expected to come up with an answer by late Thursday following another day of testimony Tuesday. The trial began Monday for Parks, 18, with Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor presiding. Parks faces counts of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery for his part in the death of Watson.
It is the first jury trial in the case, following juvenile transfer hearings that were denied by Tabor in April 2017. Shakur Shanden Sharp, pleaded guilty to the shooting death in October and was sentenced to 50 years in prison with a 10-year sentence for kidnapping to run concurrently. He was 18 at the time. His younger brother, James Sharp Jr., 16 at the time of the homicide, is still appealing the denial by Tabor for a juvenile transfer hearing that would keep the trial out of public view.
Rita Howard Watkins argues that Parks, almost 16 at the time of the crime in January 2016, did not solicit Shakur and James Sharp on Jan. 24, 2016, to Parks’ home near Watson’s on Windsor Drive for a robbery. Rather, the idea was taken from another15-year-old who had talked to Parks earlier about "getting a lick" because he was "tired of being broke." Either way, the prosecution asserts, Parks pointed the original culprit toward Watson, a 22-year-old engineering student at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith who had been kind to Parks, even giving the Parks family a dog just days before.
Although Parks said he was “scared” after James Sharp Jr. showed him the handgun they stole from a vehicle the day before, Parks provided the Sharp brothers with a red shoelace from his shoes and agreed to knock on the door as a diversion to Watson. He also hid a hunting bow the Sharp brothers stole from Watson's truck.
The Sharp brothers expected Parks to come back around through the back door and help them, detective Anthony Parkinson with the Fort Smith Police Department testified Tuesday. Instead, Parks knocked and ran back to his apartment.
In addition to hearing an autopsy report and forensic data from experts, jurors also watched a one-hour recording Tuesday of Parkinson’s second interview with Parks in late January 2016 following the slaying. In that interview, knowing Parks regularly rode horses and knew how to tie knots, Parkinson questioned Parks’ part in the scheme as being the one designated to tie Watson’s hands during the robbery. In his defense, Watkins noted in cross-examination the one with the shoelace was James Sharp Jr. and not Parks. And according to testimony from a victim and witness, Parks never entered the apartment.
Parks told Parkinson he had offered information to his other friend about Watson with the thought a theft would be done when Watson was not home, and no guns would be involved. That all changed when the Sharp brothers stole a gun from a vehicle. The big question the jury will need to solve is how severely to punish Parks, who hasa low intellect for a 10th grader, if he is found guilty. During his first interview in 2016, Parks asked Parkinson what "execution" meant.
In a heated exchange before being called to Tabor's bench, Watkins tried to grill Parkinson on the stand Tuesday on the notion he took advantage of Parks' lack of intellect before signing a rights waiver. Parkinson told the court he asked Parks after each of the five questions if he understood, and Parks said "yes."