A prosecutor asked the Arkansas State Police on Monday to investigate the 2003 case of a Searcy County man whose death was ruled a suicide even though he was shot twice in the head with a 9mm pistol.

James T. "Tom" Kearse, 43, of Marshall, died April 22, 2003, after telling family members that his life was "in danger," according to a report that year from the state Crime Laboratory.

His sister, Stephanie Kearse of Arlington, Va., asked that the case be reopened, saying that she didn't believe he had committed suicide.

"The nature of this case is upsetting as we believe that he was murdered," Stephanie Kearse wrote in a March 3 email to Cody Hiland of Conway, prosecuting attorney for the state's 20th Judicial Circuit, which comprises Searcy, Faulkner and Van Buren counties.

"The evidence in the investigative file leads me to the conclusion that the case needs to be re-evaluated," Hiland said Monday. "The conclusion in the investigation that this was a suicide needs a second look."

In an email to Stephanie Kearse, Hiland wrote, "I would caution you against setting expectations too high that this action will result in justice for Mr. Kearse. The lapse of time will make it a very challenging task."

An autopsy of Tom Kearse found two gunshot wounds in his head. One was a superficial graze wound to the scalp on the left side, which showed "no evidence of close range firing on the skin." A second shot to the back right side of the head went through his brain. That wound left soot and searing on the skin, according to the autopsy.

In a letter sent Monday to Col. William Bryant, director of the Arkansas State Police, Hiland wrote that the suicide finding was "questionable."

"The existence of two wounds to the back of the head are troubling in and of themselves, but for one not to have stippling consistent with a self-inflicted wound is decidedly so," wrote Hiland.

Stippling is the marks on the skin caused by a gunshot fired at a victim from close range.

Stephanie Kearse had asked Hiland about this in her March 3 email.

"If this is the case, the shot must have been fired from a distance away, farther than Tom's arm could extend and shoot himself in the head," she wrote.

Hiland said the Arkansas State Police has never turned down one of his requests for an investigation.

Kearse was found on his back in a wooded area near his home with a 9mm Glock pistol in his right hand, according to the 2003 report from the Crime Lab.

The Searcy County sheriff's office was convinced that it was a suicide, but the agency requested a gunshot residue test because Kearse had told family members that there had been threats on his life. Such a test would reveal whether Tom Kearse had gunshot residue on his hands.

But Hiland noted in his letter to the state police that there were no results of a gunshot residue test in the Crime Lab's report. The test results were sent to the sheriff's office, but the records didn't reflect the finding, he wrote.

The initial Crime Lab report indicated that Kearse was "big on white power" and felt that his life was in danger from several people, including an unnamed federal fugitive.

"Victim was reported to have sent his wife away on 4-21-03 so she would be safe," according to the report.

The autopsy found no evidence of drugs in Kearse's system, and a trace amount of alcohol was "probably the result of decomposition."

Tom Kearse was born in Washington, D.C., and later lived in Butler, Pa., according to an obituary. He was a 1977 graduate of Butler High School who worked in construction and sales. He was a member of the Martin Box Mennonite Brethren Church in Marshall.

Metro on 06/28/2016

Source : http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2016/jun/28/new-investigation-sought-for-03-death-r-1/?f=news-arkansas

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