Appeals Court upholds Ratterree conviction


The Arkansas Court of Appeals Wednesday rejected arguments by a Lincoln County man that the court erred when he was convicted of manslaughter.

Jeffery Wayne Ratterree was charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 10, 2010, shooting death of Michael King in Lincoln County, but was convicted of the lesser charge by a jury and sentenced to nine years in prison.

On appeal, an attorney for Ratterree contended that Circuit Judge Berlin C. Jones abused his discretion when he excluded testimony at the trial on King’s autopsy report and testimony regarding King’s drug use. The attorney also questioned the judge’s refusal to allow a jury instruction on negligent homicide, however the appeals court disagreed.

According to documents on the case, on Oct. 10, 2010, Ratterree and two other men, Winfred Ashcraft and Ray DeWease had spent the day at Ratterree’s farm and deer camp and later stopped by a friend’s house. When they left, DeWease was driving, Ashcraft was in the front passenger seat, and Ratterree was in the back seat.

As the vehicle passed a house, they saw two men, including King, working on a car, and King reportedly yelled something. Ratterree asked DeWease to stop and back up, and when he did, Ratterree got out of the car, and walked to the two men while Ashcraft and DeWease stayed in the vehicle, then got out when they heard a gunshot.

They found King lying on the ground with a gunshot wound to the face and reportedly heard Ratterree say he had “(expletive) up now.”

Ashcraft testified that he took a gun out of Ratterree’s pocket, laid it on the ground, and drew a circle around it.

Two people who were at the house, Evie Nobles and Larry Pierce, testified that Ratterree got out of the vehicle and walked to the driver’s side of the vehicle where King was sitting and asked King if “he was talking to him,” and when King said “no,” Ratterree grabbed King by the throat.

“They said when King pushed the door open to get out of the vehicle, Ratterree shot him,” the court ruling said.

Also testifying at the trial, Kenneth Davis, an investigator from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department who said he was walking Ratterree from the jail to an interview room when Ratterree told him that “he got him good in the face, it was a good shot,” and he was “just tired of the riffraff in the neighborhood.”

Ratterree also claimed that he saw King “grab something from the seat, so he grabbed his gun from his pocket and slammed King’s arm into the door of his vehicle.

“Ratterree said he and King had contact with their hands and arms and that his gun discharged and King fell to the ground,” Davis said.

Because Ratterree had alcohol on his breath, Davis said he took a second statement the next morning and it was virtually the same as the first statement.

Neither the investigating officers nor the coroner found any weapons in or under King’s vehicle or on or under King’s body except Ratterree’s gun that Ashcraft had placed on the ground.

In the appeal, Ratterree contended that the judge should have allowed the autopsy report which showed that toxicological analysis of King’s blood indicated that he had methamphetamine and other drugs in his system.

Prosecutors argued that allowing that testimony was “substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, that it would not explain to the jury why King reacted the way he did, and that the evidence would only serve to inflame the jury.”

The Appeals Court said that Jones’ ruling was correct, with Appeals Court Judge David M. Glover writing that “There is nothing in those events (that led up to the shooting) that the drugs in King’s system had anything to do with the confrontation.”

Regarding Ratterree’s contention that the judge should have allowed a jury instruction for negligent homicide, Glover said, “Here there was no negligent behavior on the part of Ratterree. All of his actions were purposeful.”

While Ratterree testified that the gun went off accidentally, James Looney, a firearms and toolmarks examiner with the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory testified that for the gun to be fired, the trigger had to be pulled.

“This type of testimony rebuts the notion that Ratterree acted negligently,” Glover said. “Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give the jury an instruction on negligent homicide because there was no evidence presented to the jury that rationally supported the giving of such an instruction.”