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— It took a jury a little more than an hour last Thursday to find Joel Bullard guilty of first-degree murder.

The jury - seven women and five men - later agreed on a life sentence for Bullard, 30. That part of the trial took less than 15 minutes.

Bullard, representing himself, proclaimed his innocence to jurors during his closing statements. Bullard didn’t show any emotion after hearing either decision from the jury. He declined to address the court after hearing the panel’s life sentence recommendation.

Circuit Judge David Clinger then sentenced Bullard to life imprisonment, Bullard was handcuffed and Benton County Sheriff’s Office deputies took him from the courtroom.

Bullard sat at the same table last year during his first trial when he heard a jury couldn’t reach a verdict. That case ended in a mistrial.

Jurors in the second trial believed Joel Bullard killed his half brother, Darrell Bullard, and buried the body in a shallow grave near Joel Bullard’s mother’s property.

Darrell Bullard, 45, was last seen in August 2006 at Debbie McGuire’s residence. His body was found in a shallow grave in March2007 about 200 yards from her residence.

McGuire is Joel Bullard’s mother and Darrell Bullard’s stepmother.

A medical examiner testified Darrell Bullard died from blunt force trauma , suffered four broken ribs and a fractured thyroid cartilage.

Prosecutor Van Stone reminded jurors Bullard attacked another one of his half brothers, Steven Leroy, in the middle of the night. That attack, the prosecutor said, was similar to the one Darrell Bullard suffered.

Darrell Bullard’s blood also was found on a couch in McGuire’s residence, Stone said.

The body was wrapped in a sheet from McGuire’s residence, Stone said.

Stone also reminded the panel of testimony Joel Bullard had attacked two other men and had struck his mother and sister.

“He (Darrell Bullard) was basically a harmless, innocent person who walked into that man’s murderous path,” Stone said as he looked toward Joel Bullard.

Joel Bullard denied harming his brother. He described the prosecutor’s case against him as speculation.

Hetoldjurorsasmearcampaign had been levied against him instead of evidence he committed murder.

Bullard told jurors there were no fingerprints or DNA evidence connecting him with the crime

“An innocent man stands before you,” Bullard said. “That’s true. I’m innocent.”

During the sentencing prosecutors presented two witnesses who said they saw Bullard choke other people in altercations.

Darrell Bullard’s aunt, Kay Cooper, told jurors she still misses talking and drinking cups of coffee with her nephew.

She described him as a kind and fun-loving person.

Joel Bullard called his mother and sister as witnesses.

They described him as a loving brother.

Bobbi Bullard, Darrell Bullard’s mother, hugged Sgt. Chris Spark, the lead investigator on the case for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, as she left the courtroom.

“I’m glad it’s over,” she said. “Everyone did a great job.”

Sparks credited the Sheriff’s Office and Prosecuting Attorney’s Office with being able to obtain the conviction.

“I’m glad to get this case closed for the family,” Sparks said. “The jury did a great job. We got the maximum.”

Stone was grateful for the jury’s verdict.

“It took an extra year but I’m happy for Bobbi Bullard and all of Darrell’s family that justice was ultimately done in this case,” Stone said.

News, Pages 8 on 12/23/2009

Print Headline: Jury Finds Bullard Guilty; Imposes Life Sentence

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