Fifteen years ago a juror who sat only feet away from Timothy Buffington said they could vote to put the accused man to death if the case warranted doing so.
"Becasue it was a murder trial we had to go into a separate room with (Buffington) and his attorney and the prosecutor," said the juror, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They ask point blank, ‘can you put this man to death if you are the final vote,’ and (Buffington) is sitting there crying the whole time.
"I was told the only reason I was allowed to stay on the jury is I said yes, but that’s what they wanted, someone to be unbiased."
Following the case, heard by then-Circuit Judge Paul Danielson and argued by then-15th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Jerry Don Ramey with deputy Brian Mueller and defense attorney Ernie Witt, the panel opted for first-degree murder and made a sentencing recommendation of 20 years.
But, with Buffington, who also goes by "Bo" having escaped from prison on June 21, the juror said, "that kind of goes through your mind."
Buffington, 47, who had special trusty status, walked away from the Pine Bluff Complex, and a search of the heavily wooded area near Princeton Pike that began after the escape has so far been unsuccessful.
Buffington is described as white, 5 feet 6 inches tall and 182 pounds, with a shaved head. He has a scar on his abdomen and on the upper back area of his left arm and a tattoo or scar on his right wrist
The juror said he learned of Buffington’s escape through a family member who saw a media report about it and has not been notified by someone within the court system.
"We were told he could get out in 14 years," the juror adds. "I was kind of interested why he would break out if he didn’t have that much time left."
Also speaking on the condition of anonymity, a second juror, who did not learn of Buffington’s escape until today and the discovery also absent the court system, was never comfortable with the sentence.
"I thought (officials) were supposed to notify us if he got out," the second juror stated. "I don’t think the guy really needs to be out. I thought he got off easy."
Along with the sentencing issue, the first juror has vivid memories of the entire trial in which Buffington was sentenced to two decades for the 1998 killing Rhonda Combs, his ex-wife.
"He didn’t seem like that bad of a guy. She was not portrayed as the best citizen," the juror said. "He kind of had all he could take and shot her. Basically it was the stress."
The stress, the juror recalled, derived from the alleged prompting by the couple’s child to accuse Buffington of improprieties while the child was in his care. Buffington was never charged with such crimes.
The juror can also recount the events surrounding Buffington, Combs and Wayne Fletcher being together on Carolan Bridge, southeast of Booneville, when the shooting occurred.
"He was going to stash some of his stuff under the bridge and he was going to Alread to work," the juror said.
The memories are just as fresh for the second juror.
"(Buffington) had the gun in the field and he made sure they were together, and he shot her. If that’s not premeditated I don’t know what is," the second juror said.
Neither juror who spoke to the Democrat said they were terribly troubled by the news of Buffington’s escape, but that could change if it appears the killer is near the area. However, Fletcher, who was a key state’s witness, told a Pine Bluff Commercial reporter he was unhappy he was not informed of the escape.
"I was pretty upset when I found out he had escaped, and I’m still upset," Fletcher said. "He’s been locked up this whole time and I thought, ‘What if he’s coming after me?’"
Department of Corrections officials visited two residences in Booneville the night of the escape.
As Fletcher remembers, Buffington and Combs were involved in a custody battle over their two children. Combs had custody of a girl while Buffington had custody of a boy for which she was also trying to get custody.
Jurors heard Buffington’s taped confession but, "we couldn’t hardly make it out and Ernie Witt tried to make it look like he shot her on accident," one juror stated.
Among the items admitted into evidence during the trial were gruesome photos of the vehicle in which Combs was riding when she was shot.
"I had nightmares for about a month after looking at the pictures of the body, this isn’t something you see on TV," the second juror said.
Ray King of the Pine Bluff Commercial contributed information used in this report.