FORT SMITH -- Family and friends of 22-year-old Kaleb Watson remembered his warmth, friendship and big heart Monday and rebuked his confessed murderer Shakur Sharp for taking him from them.
But Watson's parents, Ricky and Linda Watson of Hagarville in Johnson County, said during Sharp's sentencing hearing in Sebastian County Circuit Court that their religious beliefs required them to forgive Sharp.
Sharp, 18, pleaded guilty in circuit court on Sept. 20 to first-degree murder, kidnapping and two counts of aggravated robbery in the Jan. 23, 2016, shooting death of Watson, an electrical engineering student at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. Watson was on track to graduate last December and had a job lined up in Little Rock.
"Kaleb, my youngest, was fixing to start a great life in a good job," Ricky Watson read in a prepared victim impact statement. "I was so proud of him."
Kaleb's mother testified that she missed her son's smile, the snide remarks he would make around the house, the way he called the Hogs, kayaking with him and his ring tone when he phoned.
Looking at Sharp from the witness stand, Linda Watson berated him for depriving her of seeing her son's bright future unfold: graduating from college, getting a good job with Southwest Power Pool in Little Rock that Watson was so proud to get, getting married and having his own children.
"I know Kaleb would forgive you too because Kaleb is all about forgiving," she said.
Pat McElmurry of Clarksville read in her statement that Watson took her and her husband Stephen under his wing when they moved to the area. He became part of their lives.
She said Watson did some work on their property just before he was killed. The McElmurrys had written him a check for the work and left it for him in their mailbox. Watson never picked up the check, and the McElmurrys have never removed it from the mailbox, she said.
"We hired him to take care of our property, but he took care of us," she said.
Several witnesses testified for the prosecution during the sentencing hearing Monday. They were to have testified at Sharp's trial, which was to start Monday but for his guilty plea last month.
Watson's friend Bailey Smith, 21, testified she was with Watson at his townhouse apartment at 4700 Windsor Drive the evening of Jan. 23, 2016, a Saturday, when two men burst in through the back door, wearing all black and masks over their heads. One of them had a loaded 9mm Colt pistol stolen earlier that day from Joseph Edwards' car at 4321 S. Q St.
Sharp, 16 at the time of the shooting, had confessed to Fort Smith police Detective Anthony Parkinson that he had the Colt and that his brother James, then 15 years old, had a bag and a shoestring when they entered Watson's apartment and held Watson and Smith at gunpoint.
James Sharp tied Watson's hands -- poorly, according to testimony -- in front of him with the shoestring, and then went to a closet where Watson had stored shotguns, Smith said.
Smith said that when Shakur Sharp turned to go to the television to get Watson's PlayStation game, Watson rushed him, jumped on his back and fought for the gun. Shakur Sharp told Parkinson later that the gun just started firing.
Arkansas Chief Medical Examiner Charles Kokes testified Monday that it appeared Watson was struck by five bullets. Two went into his upper chest, two went into his right leg and one nicked his right ear. One of the bullets that entered the chest pierced Watson's lung and caused internal bleeding, Kokes said.
Smith said during her victim impact statement that she wished Sharp could have seen the look on Watson's face as his life drained from his body.
Sharp and his brother had fled the house. Shakur Sharp told Parkinson he dumped Watson's wallet in one dumpster as they ran from the scene and threw the gun into another dumpster. They continued on to their grandmother's home where they spent the night.
Shakur Sharp said he went to church the next morning. The brothers then went to Little Rock and stayed with family until they were arrested.
Police got the tip from Dionte Parks, then 15, that led to the Sharp brothers' arrests. Parks, a neighbor and acquaintance of Watson, was arrested after he told police he suggested Watson as the target for the robbery and gave James Sharp the shoestring he used to tie up Watson and the bag he used to stash Watson's shotguns.
James Sharp dropped the bag and ran from the apartment when the shooting started, Smith said.
Parks and James Sharp also are charged as adults with first-degree murder, kidnapping and two counts of aggravated robbery.
Attorneys for all three filed petitions last year to transfer their cases to juvenile court. Following a hearing earlier this year that lasted several days, Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor denied the requests.
Parks and James Sharp are appealing Tabor's transfer denial to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
Shakur Sharp begins presenting his case today at 9 a.m.
NW News on 10/03/2017
Print Headline: Victim mourned at sentencing