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Manslaughter charge hangs jury in church

Midnight deliberation returns mistrial

By Jeri Borst

Court was held in church last week, making for an a-typical trial case environment for the murder charges against John Mitchell, 60, of Hatfield.

Jurors, who wore masks during the trial, deliberated until midnight Thursday, and returned not guilty murder verdicts.

However, the manslaughter charge hung the jury, with eight wanting to convict and four wanting to acquit, resulting in a mistrial.

Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner said he was unsure if he will attempt to move the retrial to another district.

Riner said it is the first trial that has been held since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and was held at the Crossing on Mena Street near the court house in order to accommodate safety precautions as a result of the pandemic.

“They (The Crossing) were very accommodating and gracious,” Riner said. “It was unnerving to try a case where jurors had mask on. It was strange and unlike anything I’ve ever done in my 20 years.”

Mitchell was charged after Polk County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of a body found on Mountain Fork River, near Polk Road 38, west of Hatfield on Oct. 10, 2018.

Deputies located Don Earl Smith, 60, of Hatfield, in a rocky area along the river.

The investigation, conducted by PCSO and Arkansas State Police, evidence lead to Mitchell’s arrest.

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