Published: July 25, 2008
The capital murder trial for a Marianna man accused of killing three family members began today in Lee County after the final jurors were selected last night.
Gordon Randall Gwathney, 47, is accused of killing his mother-in-law Sylvia Reeves, 51, along with her parents, James Oliver Mitchell, 81, and his wife Evelyn Mitchell, 79, at their residence on Highway 261, just inside Lee Co., in February 2007. He is also accused of the attempted murder of his brother-in-law Travis Reeves and former St. Francis County Deputy Tracy Jackson.
Attorneys made their opening statements to the jury this morning.
First Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Fletcher Long outlined the events of Feb. 13, 2007, when Gwathney is accused of going to the Reeves home to speak with his then-wife Lisa Reeves.
“This case will be based on reality, reason and common sense,” Long told jurors.
“The defendant said he should be exonerated because he was suffering from dementia or delirium and didn’t know what he was doing,” Long said. “You may wonder why, if he admits it, are we taking up your time. You need to see what he did because what he did will speak more loudly about his lack of dementia and delusion than any psychiatrist can.”
Gerald Coleman, Gwathney’s attorney, said in his opening statements, “This is a terrible thing. Three people are dead and a family is suffering and they’re good people, but it’s not about that.”
Coleman said Gwathney and Lisa Reeves had met in the late 1990s and had married in 2000, but called their relationship an “unconventional marriage.” He said the couple had separated in 2001, but were not divorced.
Coleman told jurors Gwathney suffers from insomnia, flashbacks from his military time in Somalia and Haiti, depression and social isolation, and had been taking medication prescribed by the Veteran’s Administration.
“In the end, we believe you will find that he could not control his mental capacities, and we believe you will find him not guilty by reason of medical disease or defect,” Coleman told jurors.
Lisa Reeves was the first witness called by the prosecution. Her testimony was followed by a video shown to the jurors of the crime scene by Arkansas State Police Investigator Dale Arnold.
The 12-member jury is made up of nine women and three men, six blacks and six whites.