A Mulberry woman convicted of second-degree murder in the May 2012 slaying of a state highway worker has been sentenced to 30 years in the Arkansas Department of Correction.
A nine-woman, three-man jury deliberated about five hours Thursday before finding Patricia McClure-Hajek, 59, guilty in the May 2012 slaying of a state highway worker.
Jurors deliberated less than an hour before sentencing. McClure-Hajek sat emotionless as Circuit Judge Gary Cotrell delivered a sentence of 30 years in prison and a $15,000 fine, the maximum allowed by the verdict. McClure-Hajek will be eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of her sentence.
Richards’ family expressed gratification with the verdict.
“Justice was served,” said Richards’ nephew, Anthony Richards. “We wanted to see this happen long ago. … Now that sentencing is over, we get closure with this and rest assured that she didn’t die in vain. We as a family want to thank the jury for the time they served.”
McClure-Hajek shot 54-year-old Sharon Sue Richards, an Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department employee working at the Arkansas Welcome Center along Interstate 40 in Van Buren, about 6:30 a.m. May 1, 2012. McClure-Hajek was sitting in her pickup when she shot Richards twice.
During closing arguments, jurors were presented with verdict options of first- or second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Prosecuting Attorney Marc McCune told jurors it was their duty to determine the weight of the crime.
“Motive is not a burden of proof,” McCune said. “We have to prove she did the crime, not why she did it. We know Sharon Richards died from a gunshot wound. Your duty as jurors is to determine if it was done purposely, knowingly or recklessly at the time of conduct.”
Public Defender Ryan Norris argued that the case resulted in three possibilities: an accidental shooting, a mental disease or defect at the time of conduct or, at worst, manslaughter.
“Lots of evidence and testimony fits these things,” Norris said. “There is no evidence that these two knew each other, therefore, there was no motive, no plan or any intent to kill.”
Norris added that she neither purposefully nor knowingly shot Richards.
“You’ve got to have intent to go out and purposefully kill someone,” he said. “She had no motive. There is no evidence that she did anything in conduct to manifest extreme indifference to the value of a human life.”
The defense claimed its client was not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, which the prosecution disputed.
“This case comes down to her actions,” McCune said. “Does she have a personality disorder or odd behavior? Probably. Does she have a mental defect where she cannot appreciate the situation? No. Through evidence and testimony, there’s no doubt she did it. It comes down to whether it was done purposely, knowingly or recklessly.”
Norris pushed the jury to consider manslaughter for his client.
“She is presumed innocent and has been released on her own recognizance through a conditional bond,” he continued. “She could have wandered. The wicked flee, but the innocent stand like lions. She’s here because she believes she’s innocent.”
“A gunshot wound to the neck is homicide — not an accident, not reckless,” he said. “You don’t accidentally pull a hammer back and fire a gun. It’s not accidental, that is purposeful or knowing conduct.”