Michael Thomas looks around Wednesday during jury selection at Judge Jodi Dennis’ courtroom where Thomas is on trial for the murder of Archie Kirlin. (Special to The Commercial/Mike Adam)
The attorney for a Pine Bluff man accused of murder told the court Wednesday his client “suffers post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) based on things that have happened to him and his family in the last year and a half.”
The murder trial of Michael A. Thomas, 27, began Wednesday before Jefferson County Circuit Judge Jodi Dennis. Thomas has pleaded not guilty to capital murder in the April 9, 2011, shooting death of Archie Kendrell Kirklin, 24.
Kirklin was shot three times at Speedway convenience store, 2504 Cherry St., and taken to Jefferson Regional Medical Center where an emergency room doctor pronounced him dead.
Thomas’ attorney Greg Robinson said during his opening statement Wednesday that Thomas “had been the victim of a drive-by shooting, one of his cars was firebombed, there was an attempt to set his house on fire, and on two other occasions, he was run off the road by people who fired shots at him.”
“He started driving other family members’ vehicles so that people wouldn’t know it was him,” Robinson said.
Robinson also claimed that a witness would testify that Kirklin “showed a gun and threatened Thomas,” and said Thomas had “seen Kirklin before chasing his vehicle.”
The shooting occurred on the parking lot of the Speedway at about midnight April 9, 2011. Accompanied by Robinson, Thomas surrendered to detectives the following day.
“You’re going to hear a lot of testimony about a lot of things that occurred prior to late night on April 8 and early morning on April 9,” Deputy Prosecutor Bryan Achorn said during his opening statement. “We’re not here to try anything that happened before late night on April 8 and the early morning hours of April 9.”
Achorn said Thomas went to the Speedway and while he was there, Kirklin arrived and the two had “multiple conversations.”
“The defendant (Thomas) had more than one opportunity to leave, but at least twice, he (Thomas) went to his vehicle while the victim was still in the store,” Achorn said. “When the victim walked out, he was followed by the defendant and as they came out of the store, the defendant raised his gun, leveled his gun, and fired three times.”
Achorn said Kirklin began to run and Thomas “continued to level his gun and shoots two more times, which resulted in the death of the victim.”
Six video cameras at the store recorded the incident and Robinson told the jury “you will see a lot of what happened that night, even past the shooting.”
He also explained that there was no audio to accompany the video, “so the prosecution and defense are going to present witnesses to tell you about the exchanges.”
“Some of them you will see, some are not as obvious,” Robinson said. “The meeting between Kirklin and Thomas that night was not planned by either one.”
Pine Bluff Police Officer Patrick Saffold was the lead investigator on the case. He told Chief Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Juneau that when he arrived at the scene, he saw fire and emergency services and medical personnel working on a person, later identified as Kirklin, before the man was loaded into an ambulance.
Saffold said he found three spent shell casings at the scene, located several witnesses and developed Thomas as a suspect.
On cross examination by Robinson, Saffold said when Thomas surrendered “he had medical issues and got sick,” later telling Robinson that Thomas’ “eyes were rolled back, he was foaming at the mouth, and was fighting the EMTs.”
Asked by Robinson, Saffold also admitted he “was not aware that Thomas took seizure medication.”
Crime Scene Technician Cathy Ruhl testified that she collected three spent .9-millimeter shell casings from the scene, as well as clothing, including blue jeans and a pair of shoes, that Kirklin had been wearing, and also a Red Bull can that had an obvious bullet hole in it.
The shell casings were sent to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory at Little Rock for testing and Jennifer Floyd, a firearms and toolmarks examiner for the lab said Wednesday afternoon that all three shell casings were fired from the same gun.
No weapon has ever been recovered in the case.
A jury of seven men and seven women, including two alternates are hearing the case.
The state is not seeking the death penalty for Thomas, and if he is convicted of capital murder, would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Testimony will continue Thursday beginning at 9. a.m. The trial is expected to continue through Friday.