FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — Two brothers serving lengthy prison terms in Arkansas on a variety of charges soon could be transferred to Le Flore County, where they face first-degree murder charges in the 2010 slaying of a Fort Smith woman.
Elvis Aaron Thacker, 24, and Johnathen Don James Edward Thacker, 23, are both charged with first-degree murder in the death of 22-year-old Briana Jane Ault, whose body was discovered in a pond near Leard Cemetery, off Texas Road, in Pocola on Sept. 13. 2010. Her throat was cut, according to a police report.
District Attorney Jeff Smith on Friday announced his office filed paperwork with Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin to have the Thackers transferred from the Arkansas Department of Correction to Le Flore County, to allow prosecution of the murder charges to move forward.
Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for Fallin, said the governor's office received Smith's request June 19, and it was signed and forwarded to Arkansas officials June 21.
Shea Wilson, a Correction Department spokesman, told the Southwest Times Record the request from Oklahoma had been received, but more information is required from Oklahoma officials before a transfer could occur, including how Oklahoma authorities intend to transport the brothers, when they want to transport them, etc.
Oklahoma and Fort Smith authorities went to the Tulsa Square Apartments on Sept. 15, 2010, to arrest the Thackers on an unrelated rape complaint and question them about Ault's death.
When authorities entered the apartment, Elvis Thacker stabbed Fort Smith detective James Melson, and detective Jeff Carter shot Thacker, according to a police report.
As police screamed at Johnathen Thacker to drop his knife, he raised it, “appearing to get ready to stab detective Melson in the back,” before he dropped the knife, according to a statement by detective Michael McCoy.
The Thackers were charged with attempted capital murder and rape in Sebastian County following their arrest on Sept. 15, 2010, and later cut a deal with prosecutors on the Arkansas charges.
Elvis Thacker pleaded guilty to attempted capital murder and kidnapping and was sentenced to 30 years in prison on each charge. The sentences will run concurrently.
Johnathen Thacker pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder and kidnapping and was sentenced to 25 years in prison plus 15 years suspended on each charge. The sentences will run concurrently.
Sebastian County deputy prosecuting attorney Michael Wagoner told Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge Michael Fitzhugh during the Aug. 29, 2011, plea hearing that Melson and the victim in the rape case both approved the plea bargain.
In January, Ault's mother, Bethany Ault-Pyle, expressed frustration that the murder case against the Thackers wasn't moving forward quicker; then and during a news conference Friday, Smith said he understood Ault-Pyle's frustration, but the case presented unique circumstances.
“It's been a very difficult process for her. We know that and respect that,” Smith said.
Had the brothers been apprehended in Oklahoma, Smith said under state law, the Thackers would have to come to trial “within a reasonable time,” which isn't specifically defined by statute as being a given number of days, weeks, months, etc.
Because his office is seeking to have the Thackers returned transferred to Oklahoma from the corrections department in another state under an interstate compact, Smith said they must be tried within 120 days of their arrival in Oklahoma.
Because the Thackers are incarcerated in Arkansas — Elvis until at least October 2031 before he's eligible for parole and Johnathen until at least March 2028 before he's eligible for parole — Smith said he made a tactical decision for his office to review the “voluminous amount of evidence” in the case with a potential death-penalty trial in as soon as 120 days of their return to Oklahoma.
But Smith said, “It's been long enough,” and it's time to start moving the case toward a resolution.
Although it's not guaranteed the trial would move forward within 120 days, Smith said it could only be continued beyond that time at the request of the defendants.
It's also uncertain whether Smith will seek the death penalty for Elvis and/or Johnathen Thacker.
Smith said he's continuing to confer with First Assistant District Attorney Marion Fry on the matter and take the wishes of Ault's mother into consideration before reaching a final decision, which he hopes to have by the time the Thackers return to Oklahoma.
Johnathen Thacker told police that his brother sexually assaulted Ault after he attempted to rob her, then cut her throat after he was unable to drown her, according to the Oklahoma arrest warrant affidavit.
Once Elvis Thacker was able to speak to police in early October 2010, he confessed to cutting Ault's throat, according to a police report. Elvis Thacker told investigators that his brother wasn't involved in Ault's death.