After a three-day trial and five hours of deliberation, a Sebastian County jury found Dionte Parks of Fort Smith guilty Wednesday of first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping for his role as an accomplice in the 2016 shooting death of Kaleb Watson.
Shakur Sharp pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in April and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Jurors return at 9:30 a.m. today to Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor's courtroom for the sentencing phase of Parks' trial. He faces 10 to 40 years, or life in prison.
Parks, now 18, was about to turn 16 in late January 2016 when he aided and abetted two older teens in the robbery-turned-homicide by providing Shakur and James Sharp information on Watson's belongings, as well as a handbag to carry stolen material and a shoelace to tie the hands of Watson at gunpoint, according to prosecutors.
Watson was a 22-year-old engineering student at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and lived next to Parks. He was shot five times by Shakur Sharp in a struggle for a handgun during an aggravated robbery at Watson’s 4700 Windsor Drive apartment.
Under Arkansas law an accomplice can be charged with the same crimes as those who carried out the crime.
Mental ability testing by forensic psychologists for both the prosecution and defense put Parks’ IQ between 66 and 71, in the borderline intellectually disabled category, with an elementary reading level. His math scores were on the second-grade level.
Although the psychologists testified Parks could understand the criminality of his actions and could conform his actions to the law at the time of the murder, it was apparent that Parks’ Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder mixed with substance abuse of marijuana proved a dangerous combination when it came to impulse control and understanding the consequences of his actions.
“Dionte Parks is as far from being a murderer as he is from being a mastermind,” Rita Watkins, public defender, said in her closing arguments in reference to the prosecutors opening remakes Monday that labeled Parks as the "mastermind" of the plan to rob Watson.
Watkins went on to say the Sharp brothers “took advantage of Dionte Parks’ intellectual disabilities and exploit his childlike mind.”
Sebastian County Deputy Prosecutor Alison Houston told the jury every element of Parks’ aiding and abetting had been proven and called for guilty verdicts on all counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated robbery and kidnapping. Bailey Smith, Watson’s friend, was also a victim of the robbery that night. She testified Parks had not come into the apartment with the Sharp brothers.
Parks' aggravated robbery charge was applied to the Smith's robbery.
Parks told police he knocked on Watson’s front door and ran back to his home while the Sharp brothers came through the back door.
Houston pointed out that despite Parks’ mental level, he knew Shakur Sharp planned to shoot Watson in the leg if he put up a fight and his actions fell into the definition of direct participation of planning and committing the crime.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” Houston said, before going down the roll of Parks’ involvement even before the Sharp brothers showed up at this doorstep with a stolen handgun.
Watkins said that not only did the Sharp brothers visit Parks unsolicited, but Parks never intended to go into the apartment and take part in the robbery. Another 15-year-old teen had called Parks previously about "getting a lick," or a theft, because he was "tired of being broke." Parks told the other teen about Watson having a gun, hunting bow and a "weed bong." Somehow the information was relayed to the Sharp brothers from the other teen and they picked up the plan.
Ultimately, the jury did not accept Watkins' defense that Parks was a scared child who simply complied with the Sharp brothers to "try and get rid of them."