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COVID-19 numbers: Statewide cases down, Northeast Arkansas cases spiking

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JONESBORO — The statewide number of new coronavirus cases declined Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a separate report from the Arkansas Department of Health provides an explanation for some of the high numbers recorded last week in Craighead County.

The 486 new cases brought the cumulative total since March to 74,772. Thirtyfour of those new cases were in Craighead County, based on the results of 195 tests.

One new death each was reported in Greene, Poinsett, Cross and Lawrence counties.

The death toll rose to 1,060, including 12 reported Tuesday. The health department also reported the number of virus patients in hospitals around the state rose by 12 to 459. Fifty-five new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, were reported Friday at one nursing home. Those new cases brought the total of active cases at Monette Manor to 61 residents.

A new case was confirmed in a health care worker at the Springs of Jonesboro on Monday. The report also showed four active cases among employees of Lakeside Nursing Center in Lake City. Those cases were confirmed on Sept. 4.

Smaller numbers of active infections were reported at Morningside of Jonesboro, Craighead Nursing Center and Encompass Rehabilitation Center (formerly Healthsouth).

In neighboring counties, Heritage Healthcare Center of Blytheville had 26 active cases among residents and one worker. Harris Healthcare had eight active cases among residents.

Manila Nursing Center had three cases among workers, including one new case confirmed on Monday.

Randolph County Nursing Home had two active cases among residents and five workers, and Pocahontas Healthcare confirmed two cases among workers on Friday.

In Jackson County, two new cases each were confirmed Friday at the Grimes and McPherson state prison units. To date, 69 inmates and 14 staff members have been infected at the Grimes Unit, while the cumulative total at the McPherson unit reached 22 inmates, according to another health department report.

Because of at least one COVID-19 case and the need for a large number of students and staff members to quarantine, Douglas MacArthur Junior High School will switch to remote learning at least through Friday, the Jonesboro School District announced Tuesday. No other campuses will be affected by the decision.

Lunches for MacArthur students will be available from 11 a.m. to 12 noon at Word Church or Parker Park Community Center and from 1-2 p.m. at Annie Camp Junior High.

The state said Monday the Jonesboro district had 14 active cases.

Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county through Tuesday:

• Craighead – 2,614, confirmed (up 34 from Monday), 62 probable (up 2); 328 active cases; 31,924 total tests; 18 confirmed deaths, 3 probable.

• Greene – 786 confirmed (up 7), 19 probable (up 3); 77 active; 13,104 total tests; 8 confirmed deaths, • Lawrence – 344 confirmed (up 4), 35 probable (up 1); 59 active; 4,180 total tests; 12 confirmed deaths.

• Poinsett – 611 confirmed (up 6), 11 probable (up 1); 55 active; 7,568 total tests; 9 confirmed deaths, 1 probable.

• Mississippi – 1,594 confirmed (up 21), 25 probable (up 2); 108 active cases, 12,539 total tests; 39 confirmed deaths, 11 probable.

• Jackson – 255 confirmed (up 4), 38 probable (down 1); 35 active cases; 6,057 total tests; 1 confirmed death.

• Randolph – 363 confirmed (up 2), 27 probable (up 1); 45 active cases; 4,743 total tests, 18 confirmed deaths, 4 probable.

• Cross – 406 confirmed (up 2), 12 probable (up 6);

Continued on Page 11 STATE NEWS (cont.)

46 active cases; 4,402 total tests, 6 confirmed deaths, 2 probable.

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LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas rice industry donated 153,500 pounds of rice on Tuesday to the Arkansas Food Bank in honor of National Rice Month. The donation from seven mills will provide more than 1.5 million servings of rice to help feed families, children and seniors all across the state.

Participating rice mills are Windmill Rice Company of Jonesboro, Riceland Foods, Inc. of Stuttgart, Producers Rice Mill of Stuttgart, Riviana Foods of Carlisle, Anheuser Busch of Jonesboro, Ralston Family Farms of Atkins and Specialty Rice, Inc. of Brinkley.

'As we celebrate Rice Month and what our industry means to this state, we also are working very hard to give back to our communities and give back to hungry Arkansans,' Arkansas Rice Council President Dow Brantley said. 'We take great pride in our partnership with the Arkansas Foodbank and appreciate their efforts throughout the state.'

September is also Hunger Action Month. More than 549,000 Arkansans struggle with hunger and may not know where they'll find their next meal. That number includes one in four children who may not have enough to eat. This rice donation will go in to weekend backpacks for children, food boxes for home-bound seniors and will fill the shelves at food pantries for families in need.

The rice will be distributed across the state to the five Feeding America food banks: River Valley Regional Food Bank in Ft Smith; Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas in Jonesboro; Harvest Regional Food Bank in Texarkana; Arkansas Foodbank in Little Rock; and Northwest Arkansas Food Bank in Springdale.

'For so many Arkansans, rice is an important staple item on their dinner table,' said Arkansas Foodbank CEO Rhonda Sanders.

'The number of Arkansans facing hunger has increased drastically this past year due to COVID-19. The Arkansas Foodbank along with the other Feeding America food banks in Arkansas are working diligently to meet the need and appreciate the continued support of our rice community to help us provide families with nutritious food.'

The total pounds donated on Rice Day and throughout the year will be divided evenly by the 75 counties within the state and distributed by each county's Feeding America food bank to fill backpacks for children, food boxes for home bound seniors and shelves at pantry's for families in need.

***

PINE BLUFF — Jury selection in the capital murder case against Tacori D. Mackrell continued into the evening hours on Tuesday and is expected to take up to two weeks to complete.

The 20-year-old Pine Bluff resident is charged with capital murder, kidnapping, robbery and theft of property for his alleged involvement in the July 2018 strangulation death of Elvia Fragstein.

The 72-year-old Wooster woman went missing on July 7, 2018. Authorities said she went missing from the Conway Commons shopping center parking lot on the afternoon in question and that her body was found in a wooded area along Gibb Anderson Road in Jefferson County four days later.

Mackrell has been charged alongside his cousin, Robert L. Smith III, in the Fragstein case.

Continued on Page 15 STATE NEWS (cont.)

Before voire dire (jury selection) began Monday morning, the defense team presented a motion before the court regarding the jury selection process and its ability to strike prospective jurors using peremptory challenges given the smaller panels. Typically, the court would bring in about 12 prospective jurors at a time. However, due to the nature of this case along with COVID-19 social distancing protocols, the defense team (attorneys William “Bill” James Jr.

and Jeff Rosenzweig) and prosecutors (20th Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews and senior deputy prosecutor John Hout) are questioning four potential jurors at a time.

The peremptory challenge process refers to dismissing or excusing a potential juror after questioning the panel without having to give reason. The prosecution is able to use 10 strikes, and the defense team is able to excuse 12 potential jurors using peremptory challenge during the jury selection process. Other potential jurors can be excused prior to this step if both sides agree the potential juror has a conflict with sitting as a juror on the case or if the judge rules in favor of one side's arguments.

Given the smaller panel sizes, the defense team asked Circuit Judge Troy Braswell to consider qualifying

of prospective jurors to account for all peremptory challenges for the regular and alternate jurors,” before executing the peremptory challenge process. This would mean qualifying at least 12 prospective jurors before exercising the peremptory challenge and striking potential jurors from serving on the case. Currently, voire dire has lasted about three hours for each fourperson panel.

Braswell ultimately ruled against the defense team’s request, saying the jury selection process already is “stressful for jurors without even knowing the content of the case” prior to being questioned during voire dire.

Hout questioned the group first, and asked each prospective juror to be “completely honest from your heart” when answering questions before explaining what types of cases qualify as death penalty cases.

A defendant charged with capital murder does not automatically face the death penalty. A defendant in a capital murder case can only face the death penalty if prosecutors are able to prove one or more aggravating circumstances played a role in the victim’s

When it was time for the defense team to question jurors, James reminded the potential jurors that they must also consider any mitigating circumstances in the case and determine if those factors outweigh the aggravating circumstances.

Both sides also questioned each juror about whether they would be comfortable with sentencing Mackrell to death if they found he was guilty. Not only would all 12 jurors have to agree on a death penalty sentence over life imprisonment, but they would each be required to sign a notice that officials would use to “affix a death warrant” as well, Hout said.

While some prospective jurors said they would be able to do this if the state met its burden of proof, others said they could not sign the document if it came to that point.

“I don’t think that the death penalty is justified,” one woman said.

Officials began questioning a third panel around 5:15 p.m. Voire dire in the third group continued until about 8:45 p.m. At the end of the day, one juror had been selected to serve in the Fragstein case.

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