"I killed my best friend," were the words uttered by 17-year-old Stephen Smith as he sat in the back seat of a police car May 25, 2005. The events of that day would change not only his life but everyone connected to him and the 14-year-old boy who was killed.
Jury trials in Fulton County begin Aug. 7 and Smith's will be among them. If he is convicted, Smith could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Smith is charged with first-degree murder, a class Y felony, in the death of 14-year-old Joshua Mullins. Mullins had been at Smith's home at the time of his death. Smith claims he shot Mullins in the face by accident while the two wrestled.
The events began when officers responded to a 9-1-1 call reporting a shooting on Acorn Lane near Mammoth Spring. The home was the residence of Smith who had been living alone since his father died in 2004.
When officers arrived, they discovered Mullins lying face up on the floor with a gunshot wound to the face. Authorities would later learn he had been shot with a .20-gauge shotgun.
"The entry wound indicates the shot was fired from close range," said Dennis Simons, special agent with the Arkansas State Police. Simons said evidence indicated a struggle at the scene before the fatal shot was fired.
About the time the body was discovered, Smith turned up at the Mammoth Spring Police Department. Smith told a city employee that he shot Mullins, according to authorities. The city employee notified Mammoth Spring Police Officer Jamie Turnbough of the incident.
When he arrived Smith allegedly told Turnbough he had been wrestling with Mullins when the gun went off. Smith said he didn't know the gun was loaded. When Turnbough asked Smith if he had washed his hands, Smith allegedly said his fingerprints would be all over the gun.
Authorities read Smith his Miranda rights before transporting him to the Fulton County Sheriff's Office. "I thought he was dead before he hit the ground," Smith allegedly said while being transported. "I killed my best friend."
As authorities attempted to gather gunshot residue at the Fulton County Sheriff's Office Smith allegedly said, "You just need to do the right hand; this is the hand I used to pull the trigger." Smith also allegedly asked the officer performing the test if he had ever killed anybody and stated, "This is going to haunt me for the rest of my life; this doesn't feel very good."
"I've done something really bad and I'm going to have to live with it the rest of my life," Smith allegedly said to another officer.
The Drug Task Force agents found almost one ounce of marijuana at the residence, authorities said. Dillinger said Smith and Mullins were sober at the time of the shootings.
During the course of the investigation, witnesses stated they asked Smith where the suspect had shot Mullins and Smith said, "In the the brain." A witness also stated that Smith said, "I'm going to go away a long time for this."
Authorities decided to charge Smith as an adult in the case and set his bond at $100,000. Soon after that Fulton County authorities sent Smith to a juvenile facility in Batesville.
Shortly after Smith's arrest, the home he lived in was vandalized and an adjacent trailer was burned. Investigators arrested Mullin's brother, Samuel Mullins, for felony arson in the incident.
Samuel Mullins and Smith both appeared in court on June 6, Smith on charges of first degree murder and Mullins on charges of arson and criminal mischief.
Fulton County Circuit Court Judge Tim Weaver struck down an attempt by Smith's attorney, Bradley Sipe, to charge Smith as a juvenile Aug. 17. "This was a violent and serious act," Weaver said. "Nothing is more serious or violent than a shotgun blast to the face."
During the Aug. 17 hearing Janet Smoot, a special education teacher at Mammoth Spring High School, said Smith had severe learning disabilities and operated at a third to fifth grade level in most school subjects.
After turning 18 in September 2005, Smith was transferred back to Fulton County where he stayed in the county jail.
During his time there he has participated in high school classes online. He was enrolled in the Salem School District and spent two days a week taking courses. Smith hasn't graduated yet, but the courses have ended for the summer, Dillinger said.
Dillinger said this will be one of his biggest trials during his time as sheriff. He has been subpoenaed to testify at the trial since he was one of the officers at the crime scene. He said the security for the trial will be normal.
Dillinger said Smith doesn't get many visitors besides his aunt and uncle Henry and Ruth Jewel. Smith's sister, who lives in Texas, came up and visited him once, Dillinger said. He said Smith talks about going to Texas and living with her when he is released from custody.
"He hasn't been a problem at all," Dillinger said. Dillinger said he gets along well with the other inmates who refer to him as "the kid."
"He's just real quiet," Dillinger said. "We let him out occasionally. He doesn't smoke or anything. He just stands around in the sun."