Friends, family and local law enforcement officers who knew and loved HSPD Officer First Class Brent Scrimshire, who was killed in the line of duty on March 10, 2020, were overcome with emotion as Garland County Circuit Court Judge, Hon. Marcia Hearnsberger, informed them in the courtroom Friday morning that the man convicted of the officer’s murder, Kayvon Ward, would spend the rest of his natural life behind bars for the crime, barring appeal.
The jury deliberated for three hours Thursday evening after taking in four days of heartbreaking testimony, expert witnesses and extensive evidence. Ward dodged a capital murder conviction, but the jury came back with two consecutive life sentences--one for murder in the first degree, and an aggravated assault conviction related to his violent encounter with Officer Anthony Larkin at the scene during the 2020 incident.
In addition, Ward received a 15-year felony firearm enhancement conviction tacked onto the first-degree murder charge for his use of a .380 caliber pistol during the crime. Ward also received the maximum penalties allowed for possession of a defaced firearm, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental operations and fleeing.
Impact statements and additional evidence was introduced to the jury Friday morning before they were sent to deliberate. Chief Deputy Prosecutor Kara Petro began by informing the jury of two previous convictions Ward had received, one in January 2017 for possession of a controlled substance, and a 3rd-degree battery conviction dating to August 2020.
Petro then recalled Sgt. Patrick Langley to the stand, who was one of the first officers on the scene back in March 2020 and had testified earlier in the week. Langley testified that he has been greatly impacted by the event, emotionally and physically.
Langley said he is among the countless number of friends and family who are struggling to deal with the loss of such an amazing person as Scrimshire. He shared that since Scrimshire’s murder, the department has created a wellness unit to help officers with physical and emotional issues arising from incidents on the job, and he said many of his fellow officers have greatly suffered as a direct result of this single incident, and not just the officers who were on the scene that evening.
Langley said it’s tough to go on calls now because, even though the fear of being hurt in the line of duty is always something an officer fears, now that threat is real, tangible and at the forefront of his mind when he goes on duty, as there is “no way to not think about it.” He is currently on three medications for anxiety and PTSD because of the emotional impact of Scrimshire’s murder.
Langley said Scrimshire was “one of our smartest, most compassionate officers” and that he would “do anything for anybody.” Langley had previously trained Scrimshire and said they had similar approaches to the job, adding, “If I could get 15 to 20 guys like him, it’d be absolutely amazing,”
Langley told the jury that Scrimshire had received two Officer of the Quarter awards and an Officer of the Year award in 2016, which was a statewide award bestowed on exceptional officers through the State Attorney General’s Office. He said Scrimshire “was on his way to being a leader in our department.” Scrimshire was posthumously promoted to corporal, which was something that was not a simple handout after the fact, but had been something well in the works for the exemplary officer.
“He just never got the chance to do it,” Langley said.
Next on the stand was Officer Anthony Larkin, who was on the scene and immediately involved with the struggle between Scrimshire, himself and the defendant. Larkin could not hold back his emotion as he relayed to the jury how great of an impact the incident had on him, personally, and on other members of the law enforcement community.
Larkin said that before the incident, he was a 28-year old guy, new to the force, happily married and expecting his first child. He said he is now mixed with guilt and appreciation that his daughter gets to have her father there for birthdays, Christmas, and the other notable life events, but that Brent’s wife and children will not have that same gift.
Larkin said he used to be social and filled with positivity, but now everything has changed. He said he felt alone in his grief after Scrimshire’s murder, as no one could relate or tell him what to do or how to deal with such a tragic loss. He replays that night over and over in his head, has flashbacks and can smell the gunpowder in the air. He still sees the defendant in his mind’s eye, wriggling free of the officers and rising to flee as he “smiled at me as though it was a game.”
“Nothing is getting better,” Larkin said as he shared his dependance on a glass of wine, then two, then three, then the whole bottle as he attempted in vain to deal with the grief and residual effects of the tragic incident. He said he can’t bring himself to do patrol duty anymore because he is too filled with worry for his fellow officers and became short-tempered and on edge after the incident.
“Every traffic stop took me back,” Larkin said, adding that he is now a 31-year old who takes blood pressure medicine to deal with the physical effect of the tragedy. Larkin said he got angry at himself, because he would have expected to come out stronger after an incident like this, but instead, “I came out a broken man.”
Rachel Scrimshire, the fallen officer’s widow and mother to his two children, gave an emotional statement that shook the courtroom as she tried to convey the devastation caused by the loss of her soulmate and best friend. She said she was consumed with heartache and despair when she got the news that her husband had fallen in the line of duty that evening.
“Our plans, our hopes, and our dreams were gone in a breath,” she said, adding that when he died, she was “ripped away from my only safe harbor.” Rachel shared with the courtroom that she had to spend her 33rd birthday in a funeral home, making arrangements to bury the love of her life, and that she and their two children are now forced to rely on pictures and videos “so that we never forget the sound of his voice.”
“His smile radiated happiness,” she said. “Brent was like the sun--everybody gravitated toward him.” She referred to him as “a breath of fresh air” and said, “He was humble and had a servant’s heart.”
The loving widow said her husband had been fair and patient, adding, “He never took from anyone.” She said Scrimshire was a doting father who spent quality time with the children, brushing his daughter’s hair, baiting his son’s fishing pole, spending days off fishing with his loving wife, and that his world revolved around his family.
Rachel shared the fact that her young daughter, who was only two years old when her father died, approached her mother one night one night after the murder and asked, “Why does my daddy not want me anymore?”
Rachel asked the jury how she was supposed to explain to her child that her daddy did not want to leave them. She implored the jury to understand that her daughter will never have concrete memories of her father because he passed away when the child was so young, which is infinitely more painful because “We were his whole world, and he was ours.”
“He had an option to do right or wrong,” Rachel said of the defendant. “He chose wrong.” She added that if forgiveness ever came, it would be for her and her children’s sake, as she wanted to live a life free from hate and anger.
Rachel noted that she is now alone in every aspect. “I go to sleep alone, I wake up alone, I make life choices alone, I fall apart alone.” She also touched on the pain and devastation Scrimshire’s parents, his two older sisters and the multitude of others who loved him have been, and still are, going through.
When the defense got the chance to introduce witnesses, they recalled Betty Giles, whose son had been married to Jennifer Smith, Ward’s mother. She began by saying she wanted to tell the family how sorry she was for them. She continued to say that Ward was always a good kid in his youth.
“He was never out there in the street,” Giles said. She said he was always respectful and well-behaved, but she saw changes in him and could tell there was a problem with him in the months leading up to Scrimshire’s murder.
Kevin Ward, Kayvon’s father, took the stand next to plead the case of leniency for his son.
“Kayvon has been a good kid,” Kevin said. “I don’t know how we’re here today.” He said he saw signs of psychosis from his son, as Kevin’s brother apparently suffers from the same affliction, but “never in my wildest dreams” could he imagine the current situation.
“I wish I could change what happened,” Kevin said as he broke down on the stand. “I love my son very much” He then asked the court to “please, please have mercy on my son.”
Smith took her turn on the stand via Zoom because of her previous positive test for COVID. Smith said Kayvon was the perfect kid, thoughtful, and never got in trouble. She said her oldest son took care of his siblings when she was at work or school, and that he always cared more for their well-being than he did his own.
“This is not who he is,” Smith said to the jury. “He’s not a bad person, he’s not, he’s not, I swear. He just needs help.”
Smith then bemoaned the fact that Ward would not get the chance to do certain things people do during the natural course of life and that she didn’t want to see him spend the rest of his life “in that place.” On redirect, Deputy Prosecutor Caitlin Bornhoft asked Smith if she remembered her son’s previous convictions in rebuttal to the notion that he’s never been in trouble before, and she also reminded the defendant’s mother that Scrimshire is no longer alive, implying that the fallen officer is the one who will no longer get the chance to do those anticipated things in life.
In closing arguments, Petro said that Ward had “no regard for human life,” that he “can’t conform to society’s rules,” and that “he literally just shoots people.” She reminded the jury that Ward has shot at three people in the past, killing one, and that the court was lucky they weren’t holding three murder trials.
“I want you to think about the big picture,” Petro said, highlighting the fact that Scrimshire’s murder affected not just his friends and family, not just the officers on the scene, but the entire law enforcement community. She said the fear is now tangible for these protectors of the community, asking the jury, “Who protects them?”
Petro reminded the jury how Scrimshire was exceedingly patient and polite with the defendant, how he wanted to cut Ward a break, and how the beloved officer showed more concern for the welfare of the unrestrained child in the vehicle than her own parents did. She reiterated the officer’s last words, “Hurry, please...help me, please,” pointing out how polite Scrimshire was, even in his final moments of life.
“What he did matters,” Petro said of Ward’s offense. “It affects people.” She reminded the jury of the obvious pain and suffering Scrimshire’s fellow officers, his family, and the whole community is still going through as a direct result of Ward’s act.
“He gave them a life sentence without Brent,” Petro said.
Ward’s attorney, Bill James, began his brief closing statement by saying, “There are no winners here.” He said he wouldn’t presume to tell the jury how to rule, he just asked that they “go back and do the same thing you did” in giving an honest judgement.
Petro gave final remarks, telling the jury that they were the voices for Garland County and that Scrimshire had given his life serving this community.
“Please don’t make that be in vain,” she finished, before the jury went back into deliberation for a short while before returning with their sentence.
As Hon. Hearnsberger read the jury’s ruling of life plus 15 years for murder in the first degree and use of a firearm in commission of a crime, she said to Ward that he “took the life of one of our protectors” with a conscious objective, and that it was a senseless tragedy, but certainly not meaningless. Ward was immediately remanded to officers for transport.
Hernandez is facing her own capital murder charged, but her trial date has not been released, as of this publication.