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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gate dispute ends with murder

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rick Gordon
A locked gate and control over a trail is believed to have spurred on a dispute between land owners that ignited last week and ended with the murder of Joseph Clifton, 32, of Viola. Rick Gordon, 61, of Viola has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held in the Izard County Jail on a $1 million bond.

For over a year, Gordon and Clifton had disputed the right-of-way passage of Hidden Woods Trail, a private road at the end of Big Stone County Road outside of Viola, after Clifton placed a locked gate at the trail's beginning, said Walter Dillinger, Fulton County Sheriff.

A civil petition was filed in Fulton County by Carl Langle of Viola on Feb. 9, arguing right of passage to the trail and asking for the removal of Clifton's gate. According to the Fulton County platt map, the Clifton and Langle property adjoin.

Late on the afternoon of Sept. 3, Gordon was in a tractor headed away from the Clifton property, coming from the south toward Big Stone Road near the end of Hidden Woods Trail, Dillinger said.

Gordon's residence is a short distance north of the Clifton property on Big Stone County Road.

The Fulton County Sheriff's Office is uncertain why or how long Gordon was on the trail before Gordon met Clifton at the trail's edge, Dillinger said.

The January 2009 ice storm had obstructed the passage of the trail to the south and east of the Clifton property. Fulton County had maintained the trail past Big Stone County Road, up to the Clifton residence, but beyond the Clifton residence the trail was impassable, Dillinger said.

Clifton was shot in the side while in the driver's seat of his four-door Chevy pickup at the trail's entrance. The bullet passed through him. He remained in the vehicle until his wife Denise arrived. She removed him from his vehicle and attempted to resuscitate Clifton, Dillinger said.

Clifton was on his way home after working that day and picking up his son from childcare, Dillinger said.

Clifton was unresponsive when Fulton County First Responder Boyd Daily arrived at the scene. The Fulton County Sheriff's Office estimated that Clifton was shot between 5:30 and 6 p.m. on Sept. 3.

Fulton County Deputies, Tom Hansleman and David Hardy, arrived at the scene and within 15 minutes had arrested Gordon at his residence, Dillinger said.

"He was sitting right there on the deck with a 308 rifle," Dillinger said. "He said he had been shooting at a bucket." Gordon did not put up any resistance and willingly went into custody, he said.

The Arkansas State Police in Harrison was contacted by the Fulton County Sheriff's Office at about 7:30 p.m. Three state troopers arrived about 8 p.m. and continued to work the scene for 36 hours, Dillinger said.

The murder weapon is believed to be a 45-caliber handgun, Dillinger said.

After two days of searching with the aid of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and their K-9 search unit, the weapon has not been recovered. Police continue to search for the murder weapon, Dillinger said.

Clifton's body was taken by Arkansas State Police to Little Rock for autopsy at about 12 a.m. on Sept. 4. Arkansas State Police will carry on the investigation.

"There is an open and ongoing investigation into this homicide," said Bill Sadler, public information officer for the Arkansas State Police.

Gordon was seen eating breakfast at Fun Days Restaurant in Viola at about 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 3. "He seemed normal," said Becky Parton, employee of Fun Days. "He sat right here." Parton pointed to a corner barstool near the cash register. "Everyone knew he was crazy when he got to drinking," she said.

The Fulton County Sheriff's Office has visited Gordon on multiple occasions regarding the passage of the trail onto Clifton's property, Dillinger said.

"I think a lot of people knew he was capable of this, but you can't arrest someone for something they haven't done," Dillinger said.

About a year ago, the Cliftons contacted the Sheriff's Office because someone had super glued the lock on the gate at the trail's entrance, Dillinger said.

The civil petition, filed by Langle against Clifton on Feb. 9., argued that the Langles had used Hidden Woods Trail "an established roadway" for 16 years; and that by putting up a gate at the passage of the county road to the private road, it obstructed Langle's ability to access their property.

Langle's land adjoins the Clifton property at the south. Langle owns an additional plot of land at the end of Hidden Woods Trail.

The petition requested that Clifton remove the gate at the beginning of Hidden Woods Trail. The trail begins at the north edge of the Clifton property, which is also the end of Big Stone County Road.

The Langles wanted clearance to use the road as a public access road because there are multiple families that could also use the road for property access, the petition said.

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