17-year-old charged with best friend's murder
A tan Chevrolet Impala was traveling on Highway 289 just outside of Mammoth Spring May 25 when its driver came upon a dishevelled teen-age boy running frantically barefoot down the road.
The driver stopped and the young man told her his friend had been shot and he needed help.
Those words came from a boy who authorities believe had just killed his best friend.
Stephen J. Smith, 17, has been charged with murder in the first degree, a class Y felony, for the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Joshua Mullins.
Smith is being charged as an adult and could face life in prison if convicted. Because he is under the age of 18, Smith is not eligible for the death penalty.
Lt. Bill Beach of the Arkansas State Police said Smith shot Mullins in the head with .20-gauge shotgun during an altercation inside Smith's Mammoth Spring home.
"This is most definitely a homicide," said Beach. "There's absolutely no disputing that."
Authorities are not releasing a motive for the shooting at this time.
Beach said Mullins' body has been sent to the state medical examiner's office in Little Rock for an autopsy.
Fulton County Sheriff Walter Dillinger said Smith is being held at a juvenile detention facility in Batesville.
Fulton County Circuit Court Judge Tim Weaver set Smith's bond at $100,000 at an arraignment hearing May 27.
Dillinger said he and Fulton County deputy Paul Martin were the first officers at the scene.
He said Mullins, a Mammoth Spring native, was lying on the ground face up when he and Martin walked into the room.
"The entry wound indicates the shot was fired from close range," said Dennis Simons, special agent with the Arkansas State Police.
According to an affidavit released by the Fulton County Clerk's Office, Smith claimed he and Mullins were wrestling when the gun discharged. Smith told investigators he was unaware the gun was loaded.
Simons said evidence at the scene indicated there was a struggle between Smith and Mullins before the shot was fired.
Mullins' family and friends were overwhelmed by his death.
"We're hurting right now," said Calvin Mullins, the father of the slain boy. "I just can't talk about it right now."
After the shooting, Smith ran approximately 2 miles from his house on Alcorn Lane to Highway 289 where he was picked up and taken to the Mammoth Spring Police Station.
Smith was then transported from the Mammoth Spring Police Station to the Fulton County Sheriff's Department.
During the trip, Simons said Smith told officers, "I've killed my best friend" and "I thought he was dead when he hit the ground."
He said Smith made those statements after being read his Miranda rights inside the Mammoth Spring Police Station.
At the sheriff's office, investigators performed a gunshot residue collection test on Smith, Simons said.
"You just need to do the right hand," Smith allegedly told the officer conducting the test. "This is the hand I used to pull the trigger."
Simons said Smith later told officers, "I've done something really bad and I'm going to have to live with it the rest of my life" and "I'm going to go away for a long time over this."
A public defender has been assigned to Smith's case. Dillinger didn't know which attorney had been chosen.
Smith and Mullins were sober at the time of the shooting, Dillinger said.
Drug Task Force agents retrieved almost one ounce of marijuana from the residence, he said.
A muzzle loader and another gun were also found inside Smith's home, Dillinger said.
"This is a pretty sad situation for the boy who got shot and his family," Dillinger said. "It's sad for the guy (Smith) who did the shooting. He didn't have anybody and was living on his own."
Dillinger was unsure if Smith had been emancipated but knew the teen-ager had been living alone since his father died several months ago.
"I know he's been taking care of his father's business stuff, but that's about it," Dillinger said.
He said a number five pellet shot was fired from the gun, but none of the pellets had been recovered. Investigators did recover a single 3-inch magnum shell casing from inside the gun.Smith is slated to appear in Fulton County Circuit Court in June to set a trial date.
Simons and agent Marc Hollingsworth with the Arkansas State Police are in charge of the investigation.
The Fulton County Sheriff's office, 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force Chief Scott Russell, and drug task force investigator Brian Sanderson are assisting in the case.
Smith doesn't have a previous criminal record, according to Fulton County Sheriff's Department.