A Little Rock man who caused a fatal car crash while fleeing police who wanted to question him about an earlier shooting was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday by a Pulaski County circuit judge who watched the fiery collision on patrol car video.
A life sentence was mandatory for a repeat offender like Fredrick Levern Jones, 42, once Judge Wendell Griffen found him guilty of first-degree murder for the April 2020 crash that fatally injured Jose Carmen Hernandez, 62, and mutilated Hernandez’s wife. , Virginia. Jose Hernandez suffered a broken neck, broken sternum and multiple rib fractures as well as heart and spleen lacerations in the lunchtime collision at John Barrow Road and West 36th Street.
Prosecutors Barbara Mariani and Erin Stroman called the evidence against Jones ‘overwhelming’, with Mariani noting that the judge ‘actually saw Mr. Hernandez murdered’ due to police dashcam video released during of the one-day trial without a jury.
The judge also found Jones guilty of battery in the first degree for the wounds of Virginia Hernandez as well as guilty of trafficking cocaine and possession of firearms stemming from the discovery in Jones’ wrecked vehicle of drugs and firearms. fire, a Remington shotgun and a Kel-Tec Sub 2000 semi-trailer. -automatic rifle. The loaded gun was at Jones’ feet when it was pulled from the crashed vehicle, a blue 2006 Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
Jones’ arm and leg were broken in the accident and he was hospitalized for two days before being transferred to jail.
Jones, whose criminal convictions for possession of firearms, residential burglary and drugs date back to age 17, did not testify. No witnesses were called and Jones refused to address the court before sentencing. His lawyers, Mac Carder and Andrew Thornton, described the collision as a “terrible and tragic accident” and apologized to the Hernandez family on Jones’ behalf.
Jones’ passenger, Keith Lashawn Wilder, 46, of Little Rock, testified that he had only been with Jones because he was supposed to help the young man move. He told jurors he saw the shotgun in the van, and Jones told him he had hunted with the gun the day before.
When Jones began to flee from the police, Wilder said he was terrified and that Jones would not explain what was happening.
“I freaked out and asked what was going on. He said, ‘Shut up,’ https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/mar/30/little-rock-man-who -fled-police-gets-life/,” Wilder testified.
Wilder said he had trouble remembering what he saw that day and what he said to the police, and on cross-examination he said he didn’t remember. did not recall his criminal history, including serving time in prison for a 10-year sentence he received. in October 2007 for robbery. A brain tumor is affecting his memory, Wilder told the judge, although the defense suggested his memory lapses may be more selective than he led the judge to believe.
From patrol officer Cristian Gallegos, the judge heard about the struggle to free the Hernandezes from their wrecked Toyota Sienna which had caught fire.
As prosecutors showed the judge a photo of the cuts to his left arm that Gallegos suffered in the rescue, the officer described how the passenger door was smashed in the collision, preventing him from reaching the couple as the driver’s side was on fire.
Gallegos said he used his baton to open a rear passenger window to get the couple out. He said the car exploded seconds after Jose Hernandez, semi-conscious and unable to walk, was pulled from the wreckage.
“The vehicle exploded,” Gallegos testified. “We dragged him [for] about five seconds and that’s when I heard the vehicle explode.”
Reportedly, Little Rock patrol officers had been told on the day of the accident to be on the lookout for Jones and his van as detectives wanted to question him about the murder of an acquaintance, Thelton Smith, 71 years, of Little Rock. , on 13th Street the day before.
Patrol officers caught Jones driving the van at the intersection of 12th and Rodney Parham after Smith’s daughter, Montrel Shunta Smith, 43, called to report seeing the vehicle.
Officers drew their guns to approach Jones but he drove off, eventually running a red light to collide with the Hernandezes.
Jones was charged with first-degree terrorism and battery in Smith’s shooting, but prosecutors dropped those charges due to the life sentence he received for murder.