FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — On the afternoon of August 24, the prosecution called six witnesses and then rested their case in the resentencing of convicted murderer Chris Segerstrom, 51.
The hearing in Washington County Circuit Court became necessary after the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that Segerstrom should not have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole after he murdered 4-year-old Barbie Thompson in 1986. Segerstrom was found guilty and originally sentenced in 1987.
Judge Mark Lindsay spent the morning impaneling 12 jurors and one alternate, and the afternoon session saw the prosecution call half a dozen witnesses to the stand. These included a prison records administrator, three police officers called to the scene of the murder, a reading from a coroner’s testimony about Thompson’s autopsy, and the girl’s mother, Jena Muddiman.
First came opening statements, limited to 15 minutes for each side. Prosecutor Matt Durrett simply and clearly laid out the timeline of events on July 26, 1986, that led to Thompson’s death. The girl was trying to catch butterflies near her apartment complex when Segerstrom “lured her away” to a spot in the woods.
The prosecuting attorney walked the jury through the graphic details of Segerstrom’s sexual assault of the victim with a stick, followed by his killing her with a 40-pound rock, “crushing her skull.”
“He got tired of hearing her scream,” he added. Durrett continued by explaining that Segerstrom made numerous threats to arresting officers and fought back against his bloody clothing being collected as evidence. The prosecutor informed the jury that they would be informed about every aspect of the killing, including graphic crime scene and autopsy photos. He noted that they would also learn about Segerstrom’s behavior since his arrest.
“You’ll see it all,” he stated. “The wounds are still fresh and the memories are remarkably clear. This will be difficult.”
He concluded by stating that a life sentence would be the only appropriate one possible in this case.
Defense attorneys Kent McLemore and Ben Crabtree attempted to paint a different picture, describing their client as a “mentally-challenged 15-year-old boy” at the time of the murder. Before jury selection, the defense sought a continuance, noting that Segerstrom was “unresponsive to their communication” after receiving a Haldol shot earlier that morning.
“You’re not capable of giving medical testimony,” Judge Lindsay replied, denying the motion. “We’re going to choose a jury this morning.” Segerstrom remained present for the day’s proceedings, but didn’t speak and could often be seen leaning forward and hanging his head.
In the defense’s opening statement, Crabtree informed the jury that Segerstrom’s IQ, age at the time, and psychological disorders could all be considered as factors in his resentencing. The proceedings were necessary due to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found “children are Constitutionally different.”
“We don’t punish kids the same way we punish adults,” he said, referring to the automatic life sentence handed down in 1987. He added that the defendant “was and is severely affected” by mental issues.
The first prosecution witness, Arkansas Department of Corrections records administrator Shelli Maroney, detailed a litany of disciplinary actions taken against Segerstrom since he was incarcerated. She explained that in her position she had access to such records “from when they walk in to when they walk out.”
His infractions included battery, use of force, making sexual propositions, destruction of property and indecent exposure, among others. He began his sentence in 1987 and his first offense came less than eight months later.
On cross-examination, Maloney confirmed that her access did not include any mental health records. She did state that she knew he had been in a special programs unit “on and off” since his sentence began.
The next three witnesses were all former Fayetteville Police Department officers that responded to the murder scene. Ruston Cohle, a patrol officer in 1986, was the first to arrive at 401 S. Lewis Avenue, west of the University of Arkansas and east of the I-49 interchange.
He described finding the victim’s body, and how “it was starting to get unruly” soon after that.
“Everyone was upset because of the young child that was murdered,” he said. He also described the “large boulder” used as a murder weapon, which Segerstrom later placed on the girl’s back to prevent her from moving.
The suspect was found nearby, lying down, “resting on one elbow,” according to Cohle. “He had a lit cigarette in his hand,” the former patrolman added. Segerstrom had blood on his shorts and underwear.
Cohle handed the suspect over to another officer, who testified that Segerstrom threatened to kill him with an umbrella he found in the back of a Fayetteville police car en route to jail.
“I’ve had people threaten me a lot over the years,” said former office Carol Guthrie. “I looked in his eyes and he was serious. Something wasn’t right.”
The former officer took a long pause to compose himself when he described his next course of action after taking the defendant to jail—checking on the dead body of Barbie Thompson.
“Now she was evidence,” he said.
The final officer called to the stand, Mike Mitchell, had served as a special investigator and an evidence tech and was the lead detective on this case in 1986. He was called in on his day off to help process the scene and collect evidence.
“When I turned her over, the blood was still wet,” he said. He then described the gruesome condition of her face following the fatal blow to her head. He also needed to pause as emotion seemed to overcome him on the stand.
“We’ve lived with this for 36 years,” he explained. “This was just a little girl who was scared to death.”
The prosecution introduced a dozen pieces of evidence during Mitchell’s testimony, having the former detective explain photos of the crime scene as well as autopsy pictures taken after the body was sent to Little Rock.
He also explained that during his initial questioning, Segerstrom told investigators multiple times that he just wanted to go fishing. Mitchell knew Segerstrom from prior incidents, and he saw no remorse in the boy at that time.
“I know you did it,” he told him in 1986. “So he told me,” Mitchell informed the jury. This corresponded with the prosecution submitting a detailed confession from Segerstrom into evidence.
During a brief cross-examination by Crabtree, Mitchell confirmed that he had previous contact with the suspect at least two or three times.
“He was always getting into trouble,” Mitchell stated.
After a reading of the coroner’s autopsy report, which confirmed a “depressed skull fracture” as the cause of death, the victim’s mother took the stand. Her testimony coincided with the introduction of more photos of Barbie as evidence, but these were much more innocent in nature, including shots of her with her siblings, as well as the last photograph ever taken of her.
“It’s been very hard,” said Jena Muddiman when asked about what her life has been like since her daughter’s murder over 36 years ago. “You wake up one day and your daughter’s gone.” She fought through tears as she read some additional thoughts from a journal.
“She never got to start school,” she said, as other family members in the gallery watched and cried. “She never got to walk down the aisle.”
After Muddiman’s testimony, the prosecution rested their case. The defense will begin calling witnesses on the morning of August 25. Judge Lindsay estimated that the jury could receive the case for sentence deliberations as soon as Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. Segerstrom is facing a term of 10-40 years or life in prison.