Trial to begin for teen in robbery death of Arkansas college student

Posted: June 24, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

FORT SMITH -- One of three teens charged in the 2016 shooting death of a University of Arkansas at Fort Smith student during a home invasion robbery faces a jury Monday in a trial expected to last most of the week.

Dionte Parks, 18, was three days away from his 16th birthday on Jan. 23, 2016, when he rang the front doorbell of Kaleb Watson's town house to distract him while brothers Shakur and James Sharp burst through the back door, according to reports.

Police said witnesses told them it was Parks who suggested to the Sharp brothers, who were looking to "hit a lick," that they rob Watson, who lived two doors down from him. Parks occasionally visited Watson and knew he had guns, money and drugs, according to reports.

Parks also supplied the brothers with a tote bag that James Sharp was to use to hold Watson's shotguns, and a shoestring to tie Watson's hands while Shakur Sharp pointed a gun at Watson and his friend Bailey Smith, reports say. James Sharp had stolen the handgun earlier that day, according to reports.

All three were charged in Sebastian County Circuit Court with first-degree murder, kidnapping and two counts of aggravated robbery.

Shakur Sharp, 19, who was 12 days from turning 17 at the time of the killing, pleaded guilty to the charges last year and was sentenced in October to 30 years in prison for the murder and 10 years each on the aggravated robbery charges, with the three sentences to run consecutively for a total of 50 years in prison.

Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor sentenced Shakur Sharp to 10 years on the kidnapping charge to run concurrently with the other sentences, according to court records.

Although all three were minors at the time of Watson's death, Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Shue charged them as adults. Each filed motions to transfer their cases to juvenile court. After four days of hearings in February and March 2017, Tabor denied the motions.

Parks and James Sharp appealed to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, which upheld Tabor's rulings. James Sharp, the youngest of the three teens charged in the case, appealed further to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which last week rejected his request for review. A trial date for James Sharp has not been set.

In hearings and court records, Smith testified that she was visiting Watson, a 22-year-old electrical engineering student, on the evening of Jan. 23, 2016. They were watching television.

The doorbell rang, but when Watson answered the door no one was there.

Police said Parks told them later that the Sharps wanted him to ring the doorbell to create a diversion and then run around to the back of the town house and enter through the back door with the Sharp brothers. Instead, after he rang the doorbell, Parks ran home and never went inside Watson's home, Parks reportedly told police.

Smith testified that two young men wearing masks and dressed all in black burst in through the back door. One of the youths, Shakur Sharp, was armed with a pistol, and James Sharp had the tote bag. As James Sharp began to put Watson's shotguns into the bag, Watson freed himself from his bonds and jumped on Shakur Sharp, according to reports.

James Sharp dropped the bag and ran out the door, reports say. Shakur Sharp and Watson struggled, and Shakur Sharp began firing the gun, reports say. Arkansas Chief Medical Examiner Charles Kokes testified at Shakur Sharp's sentencing hearing that Watson was shot five times, including twice in the chest.

Shakur Sharp ran away, throwing the gun into a dumpster as he fled, reports said.

According to police reports, when Parks' mother, LaRhonda Marable, found out about her son's involvement in the shooting, she took him to the police so he could tell what he knew.

Initially treated as a witness, Parks became a suspect when he admitted to suggesting Watson as the robbery target, ringing the doorbell to distract Watson, and supplying the shoestring and tote bag for James Sharp, police said.

Jury selection is to begin Monday at 9 a.m.

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State Desk on 06/24/2018