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Murder trial begins

Witness testimony against a suspect in a Crawford County murder trial began Tuesday morning in circuit court.

Patricia McClure-Hajek, 59, is charged with the first-degree murder in the death of 54-year-old Sharon Sue Richards, an Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department employee.

McClure-Hajek is accused of shooting Richards while she was working at the Arkansas Welcome Center off Interstate 40, at around 6:30 a.m. May 1, 2012. McClure-Hajek was sitting in her pickup when she allegedly shot Richards.

Van Buren police found Richards’ body on the ground behind her AHTD pickup. She had been shot in the neck twice.

McClure-Hajek approached an officer holding a handgun, which she dropped without resistance, according to police reports. She was transported first to Summit Medical Center then to Sparks Regional Medical Center for treatment of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the leg that was apparently accidental.

After a jury consisting of nine women and three men was selected Monday, Prosecuting Attorney Marc McCune brought forth witnesses to testify against the suspect, including police officers that responded to the incident and an expert in forensic pathology that examined Richards’ body.

At least two officers with the Van Buren Police Department, Sgt. Frank Petray and Cpl. James Blount, testified that McClure-Hajek was in possession of a firearm and holster at the scene of the crime.

Blount, acting as a firearms expert, also testified that three rounds had been fired from the .22-caliber Ruger that had been in McClure-Hajek’s possession, and that the gun’s hammer had to be cocked each time it was fired.

During cross-examination, Public Defender Ryan Norris questioned Petray about the condition of McClure-Hajek’s truck and evidence that she had some type of accident while crossing the interstate’s median.

Petray admitted that a person involved in a front-end collision could sustain head injuries.

This line of questioning by Norris seems to be consistent with his intent to argue McClure-Hajek was suffering from a mental illness at the time of the shooting and not responsible for her actions, despite a court-ordered mental evaluation that found she suffered from no mental defect at the time of the shooting.

Dr. Stephen Erickson, forensic pathologist and deputy chief medical examiner at the Arkansas State Crime Lab, testified as a forensic expert.

Erickson explained to jurors the process of examination and importance of each step, including an investigation of the history of the patient, external and internal exams, and the diagnosis.

“Many times the skin tells the story,” Erickson told jurors.

Erickson gave details of the wounds to Richards’ neck, calling them “consistent with gunshot wounds,” and described how one of the bullets penetrated an artery above her lung, causing her chest cavity to fill with blood and stop her heart having blood pressure, which was the cause of her death.

Also testifying Tuesday morning was Capt. Stephen Coppinger with the Arkansas State Police in Little Rock. Coppinger was a lieutenant over the Fort Smith region at the time of the shooting, and was first officer to question McClure-Hajek after she arrived at Sparks.

McCune made a special point to specifically ask Coppinger and Blount, who was present for the initial questioning, whether McClure-Hajek had received any medications prior to questioning.

Both testified that she had not, and that as soon as she received medication, Coppinger discontinued questioning.

Jurors were listening to an audio of that interview when court broke for lunch at 11:45 a.m., and were expected to pick back up at that point at 1:15 p.m.

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