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The killing of Ernest Hoskins: a matter of intent

In November 2012, Ernest Hoskins was shot and killed by his boss during a business meeting. With the killer now charged with manslaughter, a family's search for justice highlights the often blurry line between recklessness and murder.

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"Lies remain told, forgetting what you heard. The truth is what's important, that's what your heart deserves."

— July 18, 2012, Facebook post by Ernest "Kiid" Hoskins Jr.

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of room to squeeze the word "accidental" into the statement signed by Christopher Reynolds, 35, a few hours after he pulled a large-caliber handgun from a basket in his kitchen and then shot his 21-year-old employee, Ernest Hoskins Jr., in the head during a November 2012 business meeting. A State Police investigator wrote the statement, but Reynolds put his signature to it, swearing on penalty of perjury that it was the truth:

"On November 9, 2012, at approximately 2:00 PM, I was conducting a meeting at my house for my business. My business reduces gas mileage on vehicles. Rachel Watson, Brian Washington, Melissa Peoples and Ernest Hoskins were at my house for the meeting. All four are my employees. I was discussing with Ernest why his sales figures for the week were so low. He had lower figures than Melissa and Rachel. Ernest told me that I needed to get off my couch and work as well. We were bantering back and forth. I picked up a Desert Eagle .44 Magnum pistol from behind me. I pointed the pistol at Ernest's head, and we were bantering for approximately one minute. I pulled the trigger and the gun did not go off. I then pulled the slide back and a round went in the chamber. I tried to de-cock the hammer on the pistol by pulling the trigger and holding the hammer as it moved forward. The gun then went off and struck Ernest in the face. I put the gun back up and called 911."

A killing, with three witnesses, in which the perpetrator admitted he held a gun in the victim's face for a full minute before pulling the trigger, jacked a round into the chamber when it didn't fire, then shot the victim dead. Going solely on that statement, signed and sworn, it doesn't seem like it would take one of the great legal minds of our age to conclude the charges Reynolds might face could potentially include murder.

Why, then, was Reynolds released without charges within hours of the shooting — before, Ernest Hoskins' wife says, she had even been notified her husband was dead? Why did it take an additional 15 days before Reynolds was officially arrested and charged? Given that the special prosecutor in the case was working from the same evidence and eyewitness accounts that led State Police investigators to arrest Reynolds on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault, why did Reynolds wind up formally charged on March 1 with only a single count of manslaughter, a charge that could bring him as few as three years? Does it matter that Ernest Hoskins was black, while Chris Reynolds is white? Does it matter that the shooting occurred in lily-white Lonoke County? As Hoskins' family often asks, had it been the 21-year-old black man from Little Rock who introduced a gun into a tense business meeting in Lonoke County and wound up shooting his boss in the face, would he have slept in his own bed that night, much less been charged with manslaughter?

Questions swirl. Many of them probably won't get good answers until Reynolds' trial in early June, if then. Though a nationwide groundswell of interest has taken shape through social media, with supporters saying the case smacks of racism, the special prosecutor brought in to try the case contends that the evidence proves Reynolds' recklessness, but not his intent to kill Ernest Hoskins in cold blood. Hoskins' wife and family, however, are left to wonder: Is justice being served?

A whiff of the moment

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