By SARA MITCHELL
After hearing three days of testimony, a Union County jury found Andrew Wayne Lovett Jr. guilty Wednesday of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Michael French, and sentenced him to a total of 68 years in the Arkansas Department of Correction.
The jury of 12 recommended a sentence of 40 years on a second-degree murder charge, and also 18 years for the charge of possession of a firearm by a certain person, and an additional 10 years on a firearm enhancement. Each sentence runs consecutively, which means the years are continuous, and are added together.
Thirteenth Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Robin Carroll said that although he was pleased with the sentence, the crime was very unfortunate for the French family. “I hope this will give them some closure,” he said.
Lovett fatally shot French around midnight in June, 2008, with a 9mm handgun. The shooting occurred on a public street in Strong after Lovett and French reportedly argued over French’s truck blocking the road.
Defense Attorney Bill McLean questioned Lovett about the night of the shooting. Lovett told the jury he had surgery on his shoulder in May of 2008, and could not do much with his arm. Lovett also said he had surgery on his knee in November, 2007, and still experienced problems with the knee.
Lovett said when he saw French’s truck, he first blinked his lights off and on and when French did not move his truck, Lovett spun his tires.
French walked toward Lovett and began using racial slurs, Lovett told the jury.
Lovett said the first time French hit him was in the shoulder where he recently had surgery. French then punched him on both sides of the temple area, Lovett said. “He ran at me,” Lovett said. “I ran backwards toward the truck.” Lovett then pulled the gun for fear of his life.
After firing the gun once, French “swole up and charged me,” Lovett said, adding that French acted like the shot didn’t phase him.
Lovett said he then fired off two or three more shots and ran to the truck. Lovett went to his aunt’s house and told her he wanted to turn himself in for the shooting. The
aunt called a relative who worked at the Union County Sheriff’s Office, and Lovett gave his statement to law enforcement authorities at approximately 4 a.m.
Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Rogers asked Lovett why he didn’t leave if he knew there was going to be trouble. “You could have put the truck in reverse and left like you did when it was over,” Rogers said.
Rogers also questioned Lovett about conflicting statements he had given concerning the location of the handgun.
During closing arguments, Deputy Prosecutor Tennille Price told the jury that Lovett was in the midst of houses and could have run to get help if he was in fear of being hurt. “Or better yet, he could have left.”
No doctor testified that Lovett had surgery, Price said. “His own testimony is not credible,” she said. “He is a convicted felon.”
In 1999, Lovett was convicted of manslaughter, possession of a controlled substance (cocaine), and possession of drug paraphernalia.
“When officers asked him how many times he shot - he said he just squeezed,” Price said. “That’s right. He squeezed every bit of life out of Mikey.”
Defense Attorney Bill Luppen told the jury that French was intoxicated and in a rage. “Everyone has a legal right to go down the road,” he said. “This was a battery on Mr. Lovett.”
Luppen told the jury that if a policeman had been in the place of Lovett, the state would not have filed charges.
“If you take away French's behavior none of this would have happened. Actions have consequences and French's actions caused this,” Luppen said. “It's a tragic event, but not every tragic event is a crime.”
Rogers called the root of the event a case of “road rage.”
Even if French hit Lovett two times with his fist, a gunshot to the middle of the back is not self-defense, Rogers told the jury.
“He has three prior convictions and two dead bodies under his belt,” Rogers said.
Lovett was given credit for 204 days of pre-trial incarceration.
Judge Harvey Yates oversaw the case, sitting in for Circuit Judge Carol Crafton Anthony.