Boy's juvenile-court bid in killing of Arkansas college student denied

Appeals court lets adult counts stand

Posted: February 1, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

A Fort Smith teen's attempt to transfer his murder, kidnapping and robbery charges to juvenile court failed Wednesday when the Arkansas Court of Appeals upheld a circuit court ruling denying the motion.

Dionte Parks was 15 when University of Arkansas at Fort Smith engineering student Kaleb Watson, 22, was shot and killed during a robbery in January 2016. Parks was charged as an adult in Sebastian County Circuit Court along with brothers Shakur Sharp, then 16, and James Sharp, then 15, with first-degree murder, kidnapping and two counts of aggravated robbery.

"We cannot hold that the circuit court's decision to deny Parks' motion to transfer his case to juvenile court was clearly erroneous," Appeals Court Judge David Glover wrote for the majority. Chief Judge Rita Gruber and Judge Brandon Harrison agreed.

James Sharp also has appealed an April 11 ruling by Sebastian County Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor denying his motion to transfer his case to juvenile court. His case is pending at the Court of Appeals.

His brother Shakur, now 18, did not appeal the denial of his motion and pleaded guilty to all four charges Oct. 24 in circuit court. Based on a plea agreement with the state, Tabor sentenced Shakur Sharp to 30 years in prison on the murder charge and to 10 years each on the two aggravated-robbery charges, with all three sentences to run consecutively for a total of 50 years. He also was sentenced to 10 years on the kidnapping charge, which Tabor ordered to run concurrently with the other sentences.

In a multiweek hearing last year on the three teens' motions to transfer, the appeals court opinion said witnesses testified about Parks' lack of intelligence and academic struggles in school. He was in a one-parent household and lacked supervision, was adjudicated delinquent in the courts five times and had disciplinary problems in school.

A psychologist testified that Parks could benefit from state Youth Services Division resources if his case were transferred to juvenile court. He would have a structured environment and treatment services, but the psychologist could not guarantee Parks could be rehabilitated by the time he turned 21 and was released from custody, the opinion said.

The opinion noted that Tabor expressed concern about the lack of reliable statistics from the department on recidivism, the uncertainty of housing options for Parks and recurring escapes from the youth lockups. Parks' involvement in other juvenile programs had failed to rehabilitate him, and Tabor worried that Parks' limited intelligence would hinder successful rehabilitation in a juvenile facility.

Court records showed that the Sharp brothers had stolen a handgun Jan. 23, 2016, and wanted to "hit a lick," or rob someone. Parks suggested Watson, who lived two doors down from him, records show.

"The circuit court found that Parks played an integral and active role in the planning and commission of the offenses, that he provided items to be used in the home invasion, and that the homicide would not have occurred but for his involvement in naming Watson as a potential robbery target," Glover wrote in the opinion.

Watson had befriended Parks and had invited him into his townhouse apartment to play video games and smoke marijuana, the opinion said. Watson even gave Parks a puppy. Parks told the brothers that Watson had money, guns, a PlayStation 3 and bows and arrows.

Parks also gave the brothers a bag in which to carry off Watson's property and a shoestring which they used to tie Watson's hands during the robbery, according to court records.

Parks knocked on Watson's front door as a distraction while the Sharp brothers waited at the back door and burst in on Watson and a woman who was visiting, the records said. Instead of joining the Sharp brothers at the back door as they agreed, Parks ran home after knocking on Watson's door.

Court records showed that during the robbery, Shakur Sharp held Watson and his friend, Bailey Smith, at gunpoint while James Sharp searched the house for things to steal. Watson, who had his hands tied in front of him, freed himself and jumped on Shakur Sharp. During the struggle, Watson was shot multiple times and died. The brothers fled from the house with Watson's wallet and his cellphone.

They were developed as suspects the next day when Parks, prompted by his mother, went to police and gave a statement, which led to his arrest and the arrest of the Sharp brothers, who had fled to Little Rock.

State Desk on 02/01/2018