Christopher Reynolds, 35, who stood accused of manslaughter for shooting his employee Ernest Hoskins during a November 2012 business meeting at Reynolds' home in Ward, accepted a plea deal on July 24 and was sentenced in Lonoke County Circuit Court to the 10-year maximum with no possibility of appeal. The Arkansas Times published a cover story about the Hoskins case in April.
The special prosecutor in the case said the defense told him that Reynolds' guilt over "the death of someone he considered a friend" pushed Reynolds to accept the deal rather than go ahead with the trial, scheduled for Aug. 7-8. (A call to Reynolds' attorney, Hubert Alexander, to confirm was unreturned at press time.)
Prosecutor Jack McQuary said that with time off for good behavior, Reynolds will be eligible for parole in two and a half years.
Hoskins' mother isn't happy with the plea, and says she is currently exploring the possibility of suing Reynolds for wrongful death.
Ernest Hoskins, 21, was a newlywed and soon-to-be father when Reynolds shot him in the head on Nov. 9. At the time, Hoskins was a salesman for Reynolds' company, which sold mileage boosters. According to accounts by other employees in attendance and a statement made by Reynolds to the Arkansas State Police, during that meeting, Reynolds and Hoskins were discussing why Hoskins' sales figures were low when Reynolds pulled out a .44 Magnum Desert Eagle pistol and pointed it at Hoskins' head. After pulling the trigger once and having it not go off, Reynolds told police, he chambered a round, pointed it at Hoskins again, and fired. Hoskins was killed instantly.
Special prosecutor Jack McQuary said his interviews with witnesses found that there was a reckless disregard for basic firearm safety at Reynolds' house, saying Reynolds was "swinging around" guns that he believed to be unloaded. That, combined with what McQuary said was a lack of motive, led to the charge of manslaughter. In the Times' story in April, McQuary was quoted saying that "The Supreme Court has held that manslaughter must be more than an accident. It's recklessness. To me, this is elementary about it, but it's an accident plus incredible stupidity."
Ernest Hoskins' mother, Monica Hoskins, is not happy with the plea deal, even though Reynolds was sentenced to the maximum he could have received had he lost at trial. Hoskins said she wasn't consulted about the deal, and was only told about it the day before it happened. She said she hoped to get answers about the shooting at trial. "[I wanted] someone to seriously sit down," she said, "and analyze that entire story from day one. ... I wanted those witnesses to be able to stand in front of a jury and tell what they saw. Why did it take place? If you look at the affidavit and his story, he's admitted to what he's done, but at the end of the day: Why did you do it? What made you pull out a gun and even point it at my son in the first place? What was the reason? I want you to tell everybody your reason for doing that." Hoskins said she is convinced Reynolds will never serve the 10-year sentence. Asked if she'd be willing to correspond with Reynolds or reach out to him for his account of what happened that day, Hoskins said that while prosecutor McQuary suggested that, she doesn't know if she can. "I don't know if I can sit in a room with Mr. Reynolds," she said. "They mentioned that to us, and I was shocked to hear that. ... He never reached out to us in the first place. Why do we need to go and talk to him personally now? Let him stand up and tell everyone why he did it." Hoskins said her attorney is working on a civil case against Reynolds. " We're actually going to meet with [the attorney] in August, and he's going to go over a few things with us."
Attempts to contact Ernest Hoskins' wife, Nikki, for this story were unsuccessful at press time; the phone number she'd previously given us has been changed or disconnected.
McQuary said he still believes that the shooting of Ernest Hoskins was unintentional, but informed the defense early on that he wouldn't accept any plea deal that included less than the maximum sentence of 10 years. While preparing for trial, McQuary contacted Reynolds' attorney, Alexander, and told him that if Reynolds wanted to plead guilty, he'd have to do it by Aug. 1. Alexander "called me back and said his client wanted to plead because he does feel responsible and guilty for the death of someone he considered a friend," McQuary said. "I contacted the court as to what day and the court said tomorrow." McQuary said that Reynolds asked for no special conditions in accepting the plea. McQuary said he could have gone for a "firearm enhancement" that could have potentially added more time to Reynolds' sentence, but decided against it because "I felt the enhancement is meant more for the cases where the intent is purposeful." McQuary said that the morning Hoskins entered his guilty plea, Nikki was "fine" with the deal, though Monica had reservations. McQuary said that when Reynolds was brought forward to make his plea, Judge Barbara Elmore was careful to make sure Reynolds understood his rights and pled guilty because he believed himself to be guilty. "At one point during the plea," McQuary said, "the defendant did not hear her question correctly and did not answer to the satisfaction of the Court, and [the judge] stated she would not accept the plea until the question was asked again and he answered correctly." McQuary said that while he respects Monica Hoskins' desire to get answers about her son's death at trial, "I can't say that I have ever had a case where the victim's family is satisfied with any explanation or alibi that 'satisfies' the loss of a loved one." McQuary said that while no prison sentence could ever equate to the death of Ernest Hoskins, he had to choose the correct charge in the case.
"In manslaughter cases, you have one family who has lost a loved one completely out of the blue," McQuary said. "They don't understand how their loved one can be killed and the perpetrator not be sentenced to death or life behind bars. On the other hand, the defendant's family doesn't understand how you as the prosecutor can bring charges and seek sending their loved one to prison for what they consider to be an accident. ... Ernest Hoskins was a great man. A young man who loved his wife and family very much. Who was always striving to make a better life for his family. In the several jobs that he had, I did not meet a single person who did not care a great deal about him. No penalty would ever correspond to the loss of Ernest."