JONESBORO, Ark. – A Wynne man escaped the most serious charge he faced this week in court but will still spend years in prison on several convictions.
Dakota Cantwell was found not guilty of murder but guilty of arson and abuse of a corpse. He was sentenced to five years for arson and six years for abuse of a corpse on Friday. The jury recommended the sentences be served consecutively, meaning an 11 year term for the man.
Cantwell was accused of murdering 59-year-old Jimmy Don Doyle and then setting his truck on fire on May 2, 2018 near Trinity Railcar in Jonesboro. Detectives believed Doyle owed Cantwell $50. They accused Cantwell of shooting and killing Doyle over the money, then moving the vehicle and setting it on fire to destroy evidence.
The defense attorney for Cantwell argued that an acquaintance of Cantwell’s had forced him to kill Doyle. Although the story was difficult to follow, during interviews with detectives, Cantwell claimed he was forced at gunpoint to murder Doyle. Cantwell said he took a life to save his own.
The jury delivered the verdict after 10:30 PM Thursday.
A strange set of circumstances impacted the trial Thursday. First, Cantwell – who had been released after the deputy prosecutor failed to have the trial ready in time in accordance with the law – didn’t show up to court at 9 AM. He had been there the two days prior but on Thursday, his tardiness resulted in having his own-recognizance bond revoked.
Then, a juror revealed she had been contacted on SnapChat by someone who knew she was on the jury. She was brought to the courtroom by Circuit Judge Randy Philhours. The juror was contacted by a friend who was told by a third party they wanted her to vote not guilty with the hopes of a hung jury resulting. Even more alarming was the juror saying she discovered Cantwell had liked several of her Facebook photos after she was selected to be on the jury.
The juror was removed from the panel and her phone was taken into evidence by JPD on orders of the judge. Counsel for Cantwell made a motion for mistrial at the time but it was denied.
It took the jury around 10 hours to reach their decision once finally given the case.