LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction and 70-year sentence of a Fort Smith man who killed two people with a machete.
Gregory Aaron Kinsey was convicted of first-degree murder and second-degree murder and sentenced to 40 years and 30 years, respectively, to be served consecutively, in the June 2013 slayings of Brandon Prince and Nathan Young. A witness testified that he and the victims were standing outside a Fort Smith residence when Kinsey told them he was Satan and attacked them with a machete.
Kinsey, now 23, argued on appeal that during his trial in Sebastian County Circuit Court the judge erred in giving the jury instructions that appeared to put the burden of proof on Kinsey, who claimed he acted in self-defense, when the burden of proof actually was on the state.
The judge told the jury in part, “Gregory Aaron Kinsey, in asserting this defense, is required only to raise a reasonable doubt in your minds. Consequently, if you believe that this defense has been shown to exist, or if the evidence leaves you with a reasonable doubt as to his guilt of capital murder, then you must find him not guilty of that offense.”
In a 6-1 decision, the state Supreme Court upheld Kinsey’s conviction. The majority said the judge gave the jury a model jury instruction and that the model correctly states the law.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Paul Danielson said the model jury instruction “is incomplete in that it does not inform the jury of the state’s burden of proof — only the burden of the defense.”
“It is axiomatic that when a jury instruction is erroneous or misleading, it is prejudicial and should not be given to the jury,” Danielson wrote.
He said he would have overturned Kinsey’s conviction and referred the matter to the court’s Committee on Model Jury Instructions.
Kinsey also argued that the trial judge should have upheld a motion by his attorney for a directed verdict in his favor because the state failed to negate his claim of self-defense.
The Supreme Court said it would not consider that argument because the motion for a directed verdict did not specify how the state’s proof was insufficient.
Kinsey further argued that the prosecutor went outside the bounds of cross-examination when, after Kinsey’s great aunt testified about one incident from Kinsey’s past, the prosecutor asked her about other incidents that she had not testified about.
The Supreme Court said in its majority opinion that during direct examination, Kinsey’s attorney asked his great aunt if she had ever seen Kinsey be aggressive toward anyone.
“By posing a broad question regarding Kinsey’s aggressiveness, Kinsey opened the door to questions regarding specific instances in which Kinsey had displayed aggression,” the court said in the majority opinion written by Justice Karen Baker.