Suspect was in jail last month, was let go: Records show system needs 'fine-tuning,' official acknowledges
A Berryville teen-ager arrested in connection with the New Year's Eve shooting death of 21-year-old Laura Acevez in Eureka Springs had been in police custody as recently as Dec. 10, newly released court records show.
Victor Acuna-Sanchez, 18, was freed from the Carroll County Detention Center that day, after District Judge Scott Jackson decided he should not have to post bail. He had been arrested the prior day and charged with violating a judge's order to have no contact with Acevez.
At the time, there were actually two court orders barring Acuna-Sanchez from seeing his estranged girlfriend.
The first stemmed from a Sept. 1 charge of third-degree domestic battery, after Acuna-Sanchez allegedly beat Acevez and took a hammer to their car because she refused to give him the keys. Acevez told police he had also ripped the stuffing from their infant son's car seat. His license was suspended at the time.
He was arrested on Sept. 1 and released on Sept. 4, after posting his $595 bail. Two days later, on Sept. 6, Acuna-Sanchez allegedly attacked Acevez again, strangling her on the floor of her apartment while their 2-week-old son gazed on, police said.
This time, he was not arrested for nearly a month, and then on a routine traffic stop. He was charged with aggravated assault against a family member, theft and interference with emergency communication, along with various unrelated misdemeanor charges.
Acuna-Sanchez was released about six weeks later on Nov. 15, after posting his $18,000 bond, and three weeks after that, Acevez was found in a pool of blood in her Eureka Springs apartment.
For a second time, their baby, now 5 months old, gazed on.
Investigators are awaiting the results of ballistics tests before deciding whether to file murder charges against Acuna-Sanchez, said Carroll County Sheriff Bob Grudek.
When Judge David Clinger released Acuna-Sanchez on Nov. 15, he did so on two conditions: He was to promise, again, to have no contact with Acevez or their infant son; and he was to call in to the local Probation and Parole Office twice weekly. If he violated those conditions, prosecutors could ask the judge to revoke his release and hurl him back into jail.
In the weeks leading up to Acevez's death, Acuna-Sanchez violated both conditions yet remained free.
In a letter sent to prosecutors on Jan. 2, Kent Villines, assistant area manager for the Arkansas Department of Community Correction, said Acuna-Sanchez had never called in to the Probation and Parole Office as required.
"I checked with all personnel at the Berryville Probation/Parole Office (sic.)," he wrote, "and no one knew anything about this situation. Therefore, Victor Acuna has not been checking in with this office at any time."
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Devon Closser said she did not know why no one, apparently, noticed that Acuna-Sanchez had not followed the judge's orders, though she added that the call-in requirement was rather "unusual."
It is not clear whether the Berryville Probation and Parole Office ever received the judge's order. Someone at the office repeatedly hung up on a Carroll County Newspapers/Citizen reporter who called Monday.
Reached at his home later that day, DCC manager Villines referred questions to the Department of Community Correction's headquarters in Little Rock. As of press time, he had not responded to phone messages.
As for violating the no-contact order, Closser said prosecutors had not asked that Acuna-Sanchez's release be revoked after the Dec. 9 arrest because they were not aware of it. Jackson declined to comment when asked by Carroll County Newspapers about his decision to release Acuna-Sanchez without requiring bail.
When asked whose responsibility it was to notify prosecutors when a no-contact order was violated, Closser responded she was "not sure that there is a procedure that is in place," but that the arresting agency or the jail sometimes do so.
Sheriff Grudek said Monday that notifying prosecutors would have been the responsibility of the Berryville Police Department, who made the Dec. 9 arrest.
Berryville Police Chief Dave Muniz said it was not his officers' job to notify prosecutors of such violations.
"My guys did the appropriate thing," he said. "... If he was released again, that was the judge's decision."
Closser said the system "could use some fine-tuning."
"It's hard for us to do anything about it if we aren't aware of what's happened," she said, "and it's hard for us to be aware what's happened if no one is required to notify us."