Trial ends with not guilty verdict

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 23, 2006

NATCHEZ — John Christopher Case cried into his hands Friday at the reading of his not guilty verdict.

Case stood trial for two days for the beating death of Billy Dean Arnold with his fists early April 1.

Case’s charges were lowered from murder to manslaughter by the judge earlier Friday.

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In Friday’s proceedings, Carisa Cowan, one-time fiance of Case, testified how she planned to permanently leave him and how she and Arnold, in the process of a divorce, developed a budding relationship.

When she and Case were at a restaurant, Cowan said, Arnold text messaged her on her cell phone, trying to get her to meet him at a bar. She called him and “begged him to please don’t start anything,” Cowan said.

The three ended up at a downtown bar, where the two men met.

“The next thing I know, Chris grabs my arm and says, ‘Come on, we’re going home,'” she said.

She tearfully testified sometime after they arrived at 17 Beechwood Lane, Case came into the house yelling for a phone. Cowan said she went outside and saw Arnold lying on the ground, not moving.

“I turned him over and tried to give him,” she said.

Earlier witnesses testified that Arnold drove up to Case’s house, where Case proceeded to punch Arnold several times. Accounts varied as to how many punches were thrown and how aggressive Arnold was.

A next-door neighbor, Lottie Smith, testified she saw Cowan shaking Arnold, hitting his head on landscaping timbers, which the defense argued could have contributed to Arnold’s death. Cowan said she did not shake Arnold.

The defense also argued that Arnold’s high blood alcohol level, more than three times the legal limit for driving, might have been a factor in the cause of death and caused him to be more aggressive.

Defense attorney Claude “Buck” Pintard said his client was distraught by the situation, but was pleased with the outcome of the trial.

“He’s happy the jury found his innocence,” Pintard said.

District Attorney Ronnie Harper said he knew from the start it would be a difficult case.

“I give all deference to the jury’s decision,” Harper said. “It was a difficult decision, and they made it.”

Family members of Case had no comment.

Jane Arnold, wife of Billy Dean Arnold, was visibly distraught over the verdict.

“We don’t think justice was served,” Arnold said. “These two children are now without a dad.”

Shane Seyfarth, Arnold’s brother-in-law, said he agreed.

“As long as you have no eyewitnesses and lawyers with no consciences, you can kill someone and get away with it,” Seyfarth said.

“Now you have to explain this to a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old that your dad is dead and nobody has to pay consequences for it.”