The lives of two teen-age boys from Mammoth Spring were shattered last week by a single gunshot that left one dead and the other facing a possible life term in prison.
Stephen Smith, 17, was formally arraigned in Fulton County Circuit Court June 6 for the murder of his friend, 14-year-old Joshua Mullins.
Smith pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. He is currently being held in a juvenile detention facility in Batesville.
Investigator Dennis Simons of the Arkansas State Police said Smith admitted he shot Mullins in the head with a .20-gauge shotgun, but said it was an accident.
"If I had just flipped out and killed him, I'd say 'yeah, throw me in jail,'" Smith said. "But it was an accident and I don't think I should spend the rest of my life in jail."
Fulton County Circuit Court Judge Tim Weaver appointed public defender Bradley Sipe to represent Smith. Weaver set Smith's bond at $100,000.The proceedings were held inside the Fulton County Sheriff's Department after an intense morning at the Fulton County Courthouse.
Three Arkansas State Police troopers guarded the entrance to the courtroom as Mullins' brother, Samuel Mullins, was arraigned on arson and criminal mischief charges.
According to authorities, Samuel Mullins, 19, vandalized Smith's house and set fire to an adjacent trailer house three days after the shooting.
Smith said he had been living alone in the house since his father, Joe Smith, died several months ago.
He said he is not a legally emancipated adult. "My uncle was supposed to be my guardian, but he didn't have a lot to do with me," Smith said.
The mother of the slain boy, Tywana Mullins, said she is still reeling over the death of her son and has little sympathy for his accused killer.
"I'm having panic attacks all the time," Mullins said. "I can't drive, I can't think, I can't even breath sometimes."
Mullins said her son and Smith had been friends for years and each had spent the night at the other's house often.
"I'd never let Josh hang out with Stephen if I had thought something like this could happen," a sobbing Tywana Mullins said. "There isn't anything anybody can say or do to take away the horror when someone tells you your son has been shot in the head."
She said the outpouring of support for her family by the community and Josh Mullins' former classmates has been overwhelming.
"Josh's classmates loved him and I'm thankful for the support they've given us," Tywana Mullins said. "It has been tremendous."
Tywana Mullins said she opposes the use of firearms, especially by children.
She said one of her school classmates, Samantha Huffmaster, died from an accidental gunshot while they were still in school.
A friend of Smith's father, Patricia Ann Murray, said Mullins isn't the only victim in this case.
"This child (Smith) has always had a hard way to go," Murray said. "His mother left him when he was a baby and his daddy is dead. That boy didn't have anybody."
After Joe Smith died, Murray said, she and another concerned parent contacted the Mammoth Spring School District in February and told them Smith was living alone and there were guns inside his house.
"I knew with all those kids coming around and Stephen being so easily led into things that it was just a time bomb waiting to go off," Murray said.
Mammoth Spring High School Principal Brian Davis said "This is a tragedy and lives have been ruined, no matter how it turns out."
Davis said he knew Smith and Mullins. "We have a small school and our teachers and administrators are very familiar with the student population," he said.
He said he would not comment about either boy until the criminal investigation is complete and the families have had a chance to grieve.
Murray said Smith, who had just completed the 9th grade, liked to hunt and fish and planned to join the military when he graduated from school.
Tywana Mullins said she is stunned by the amount of support Smith has received.
"Why are all these people coming to Stephen's defense now?" Tywana Mullins said. "Where were they when his father died and he had no one to help him?"
Tywana Mullins said her son was trying to lose weight so he could start next year for the Mammoth Spring junior high basketball team.
"He loved to play basketball," Tywana Mullins said. "Next year he would be in the 9th grade and he wanted to be first string."
She said she has been divorced from Mullins' father, Calvin Mullins, for approximately 10 years.
According to investigators, Mullins was shot in the head from close range while lying on the floor of Smith's house.
Investigator Simons said Smith told authorities "I killed my best friend" and "I'm going to go away along time for this" after being read his Miranda rights at the Mammoth Spring Police Station following the shooting.
Tywana Mullins said her son's heart led to his death.
"Joshua was a good boy and his heart went out to people, and this time it got him killed," she said. "I just hope his death won't be in vain."
Smith is slated for a pre-trial hearing July 5.