Suspect in murder of FC man released from ADC this year

The suspect in the weekend murder of a retired Forrest City minister was released from prison earlier this year.

Larry D. Watts, 34, 933 Hickey Street, was paroled from the Arkansas Department of Corrections on Feb. 24, after serving about 15 years on robbery and other charges, including two cases involving a pair of Forrest City women he attacked in 2005.

Watts is the suspect in the murder of Arnold Gwathney, 78, who police found dead in his home on Hickey Street Sunday afternoon. Police went to Gwathney’s home to check on him after his 2009 Toyota was wrecked by Watts following an aggravated robbery at the Family Dollar Store in Brinkley. Watts attempted to flee the accident scene on foot, but was captured a short time later by an Arkansas Game and Fish officer and is currently being held in the Monroe County Jail on charges related to the Sunday robbery.

Watts is no stranger to the court system.

Watts was sentenced in St. Francis County Circuit Court in September 2005 for attacks on the local women that occurred in February and May that year.

On Feb. 16, 2005, Watts knocked a lady to the ground while stealing her purse outside Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church.

The victim told police she had just arrived at the church for choir practice when Watts walked up to her and started talking. As she attempted to enter the church, Watts grabbed her purse and tried to run way with it. The purse got caught in the victim’s arm, she fell to the ground and Watts dragged her about 20 feet across the parking lot. Once the purse straps broke, the suspect fled the scene on foot. The victim suffered cuts to her wrist and knees.

In that case, Watts was charged with robbery, second-degree battery and fleeing. Court records show Watts spent nine days in the St. Francis County Jail on these charges.

In May, 2005, while free on bond, Watts attacked another woman during a robbery.

Court records show that on May 12, 2005, Watts was at a produce stand when he struck the then-69-year-old woman with a claw hammer, knocking her to the ground before taking money from the register and fleeing.

The victim told police Watts had been at the business earlier in the day and paid for an orange but had come back for another one when the attack occurred. She told police she answered the phone and when she turned back around, the suspect was holding a claw hammer and proceeded to hit her in the face with it, knocking her to the floor. He also grabbed her neck, began to choke her and demanded money, saying if she did not give it to him, he would kill her, according to court records.

However, at that scene, Watts’ wallet fell from his pocket. Police found Watts at an apartment complex on North Washington near Dillard Street, but he fought with officers and fled the scene. He was caught a short time later on Division Street and police recovered $99 that he had stolen from the produce stand, along with a small bag of marijuana.

In this case, Watts was charged with aggravated robbery, second-degree battery, resisting arrest, fleeing and possession of a controlled substance.

In September 2005, Watts was sentenced in St. Francis County to 12 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections on the charges in each of these cases, with the sentences set to run concurrently.

He was first paroled in March 2013, according to Dina Tyler, Arkansas Department of Corrections Deputy Director Communications and Public Affairs.

In January 2015, Watts was again headed to the state prison on charges stemming from a robbery in Mississippi County where he beat a man in the face and stole $700. He was sentenced to eight years in the ADC on the Mississippi Co., charges.

He was paroled in February this year and was required to wear an electronic monitoring device for 60 days following his release, as well as to adhere to other requirements pertaining to his parole.

First Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Fletcher Long, this morning, said evidence collected at the murder scene has been sent to the State Crime Lab and prosecutors have asked that the analysis on the evidence be expedited.

Long said deputy prosecutors in St. Francis and Monroe counties are working the case and he hopes that formal charges will be announced by the end of this week.