By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Authorities learned of a murder in the Parrott community after one of the two suspects told friends he killed a man, according to evidence presented in Pulaski County Circuit Court Thursday.
A seven-man, seven-woman jury was selected to hear the case of 42-year-old Roland Keith “Ron” Wilson Jr. of the Belspring area. Wilson is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the Sept. 25, 2012 death of Stephen Harrison Bane, 50.
An arson charge was nolle prosequi (not prosecuted with the option to re-file).
The case, which didn’t get underway until 2 p.m. Thursday, is proceeding swiftly. Prosecutors Mike Fleenor and Justin Griffith presented all but two of their witnesses in about two hours, but the case is continuing today.
According to testimony, police learned of the murder when Parrott resident Kevin Brunk called them in the early morning hours of Sept. 27, 2012 to report finding Bane’s body in an abandoned home he owns. He said Wilson led him to it.
Wilson at first indicated Bane came up behind him and pulled a knife while he and co-defendant Matthew Earnest Arnold were walking along a road in the Parrott community, Brunk testified. He said Wilson claimed he broke a beer bottle and cut the man across the chest.
However, later in the evening, Brunk said, Wilson started claiming to have killed a man. He said he called Wilson’s brother to come to the house because he wasn’t sure whether Wilson was telling the truth.
The brother testified Wilson pointed at the abandoned house when he asked where the body was. Wilson then took them to the body, according to testimony.
Asked by defense attorney Greg Hagar when he called authorities, Brunk said, “Right after I got through throwing up.” Duncan Vick also represents Wilson.
According to evidence, Wilson left the scene when he was informed police had been called.
Another prosecution witness, John Gravely II of Parrott, said he was watching television when Ron Wilson and another man knocked on the door of his home around 10 p.m. Sept. 26, asking for something to drink.
“He said he killed a man and asked if I would like to see the body. I said, ‘no,’” Gravely said of Wilson. He indicated Wilson didn’t go into any details and was there for only about 10 to 15 minutes.
Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Billy Ritter said Bane’s body was found in what appeared to have once been a bedroom. He described the vacant home as being heavily over-grown with vegetation and having no electricity. The windows and front door of the building were secured with plywood, but the back door was unsecured, he said.
As Ritter was asked about photographs he took of the scene, including some of the body, members of Bane’s family looked away or covered their eyes, several wiping away tears. Wilson showed virtually no emotion upon seeing the photographs.
According to Ritter, a piece of glass that appeared to be the “neck end” of a bottle, and was stained red, was found within a foot of Bane’s head. He collected the evidence and submitted it to the forensics lab for testing, he testified, because it appeared it could have been the weapon used in the murder.
Ritter testified Bane’s throat had been cut.
Investigator Tracy Smith with the sheriff’s office said she was called out to look for the murder suspect in the early morning hours of Sept. 27. She encountered Wilson walking in the area of Belspring and Highland roads.
Although Wilson claimed he had knocked a knife out of Bane’s hand during an altercation along the road, Smith said officers’ attempts to locate the knife using flashlights in the early morning darkness were unsuccessful.
The prosecution’s final witness for the day, sheriff’s office Capt. Brian Wade, testified he took several statements from Wilson and the defendant’s account of the incident changed each time.
When he first spoke with Wilson about the incident Wilson “said he just wanted to let it go,” testified Wade.
Wade placed Wilson under arrest and asked whether Wilson was sober because he could smell an odor of alcohol. Wilson told Wade he was sober and had only had a couple of mixed drinks earlier that night.
The officer testified Wilson at first claimed he knocked a knife out of Bane’s hand and kicked it off the side of the road, then swung at Bane with a bottle when Bane pulled a knife on him and Arnold along the road.
During a later recorded statement, Wilson allegedly told Wade he, Arnold and Bane went into the vacant house after the encounter along the road. Once inside, Wilson indicated Bane pulled a second knife and he and Bane fell to the floor in a scuffle. The defendant told the officer he broke the bottle and hit Bane with it in self-defense.
When Wilson was taken to a Fairlawn substation for the sheriff’s office, Wilson saw Arnold there and allegedly stated, “Why is he here? He didn’t do anything.”
About a week later, Wade went to speak with Wilson at the jail at Wilson’s request. Despite the statement made at the substation, Wade testified, Wilson claimed in the jail interview that it was Arnold who killed Bane. Wilson claimed Arnold threatened to kill him and his family if he didn’t take the blame for the murder.
Wilson told Wade he merely took Bane to the ground with a chokehold at Arnold’s request, then Arnold jumped on Bane and “choked him out.” Wilson said he stood up then and watched Arnold.
Wilson allegedly told Wade that Bane never resisted or fought and that Bane never had a knife.
Asked about the statement at the Fairlawn substation that Arnold didn’t do anything, Wilson claimed he said that because he was under threat from Arnold, according to Wade.
Arnold also is charged in the case, but a court date has not been set in his case.