The trial for a man accused of killing his two children began Tuesday in Saline County Circuit Court with the emotional testimony of the children's mother.
Jonathan Welborn is facing two counts of negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of a minor in connection with an incident that took place June 28, 2017, in the 16900 block of Arkansas 298.
"This trial is about how these two babies ended up dead in a murky pond," said Saline County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Rebecca Bush during her opening arguments.
She argued that under the influence of methamphetamine, Welborn drove his truck with his children — Sophia, 2, and Zaine, 5 months — into a pond and then returned to a residence where he told the children's mother and others that his truck had been stolen.
The truck was later located in the pond — along with the two children.
"Bottom line, he was high and in the driver's seat when that truck hit the water," Bush said.
In response, Mark Hampton, who is serving as Welborn's legal counsel, argued that the state does not have an eyewitness to the incident and many people that were at the scene were intoxicated.
"We have people high on meth in that home doing things they shouldn't have been doing," Hampton said.
Saline County Sheriff's Office Lt. Joe Traylor, who was one of the first responder at the scene, testified regarding Welborn's behavior the night of the incident.
Traylor explained the Welborn was "very disoriented" and "agitated." He also said the father could not focus his attention and would not answer Traylor's questions fully. Traylor thought Welborn was intoxicated, he testified.
After taking Welborn, as well as the children's mother ,to the Saline County Sheriff's Office, Traylor performed a breathalyzer test on Welborn. The results were 0.00, Traylor said, explaining that the test only measures alcohol levels.
Hampton called Traylor's memory into question since none of Welborn's behaviors were noted in the SCSO reports.
During Traylor's testimony, the jury heard a 911 call from the incident as well.
The caller first reported to police that a vehicle, Welborn's truck, had been stolen. Eventually, during the more than 20-minute call, the dispatcher learned that the vehicle with two young children inside was in a pond.
The jury heard the dispatcher as she instructed Brittany Hairston, the children's mother, through how to conduct CPR on her 5-month-old son.
During her testimony, Hairston was asked about her actions during the 911 call.
"I'm really frantic and I'm really hysterical," she said as she recalled the incident. "My babies, they were in the truck."
On the call, she could be heard screaming.
"How did it go from 'let's go home' to 'we can't find the truck?'" Hairston said during the trial. "It just doesn't make sense."
Hairston described her relationship with Welborn as "toxic" and "on and off."
She explained that the couple had had a fight earlier in the day but had reconciled. On the afternoon of June 28, the couple had taken the two children to a local swimming hole and then stopped by a friend's house on Arkansas 298.
She was drinking whiskey at the swimming hole and continued drinking while playing pool at the residence.
During her testimony, Hairston was asking about her drug usage in the past, as well as Welborn's use of drugs.
She said she had not seen Welborn drink or use any drugs the day of the incident, but did testify that he had abused alcohol, methamphetamine, marijuana and prescription medication in the past.
Hairston testified that when the family arrived at the residence, Welborn stayed in the vehicle with the children while she went inside to play pool. Eventually, he came into the house.
He told the mother that he would take the children home to change clothes and then come back to pick her up.
When Welborn entered the house later, Hairston told him he was ready to go home but when the couple went to the vehicle, it was gone, she testified.
While they were looking for the vehicle, Hairston said she heard screaming and ran to the pond where she saw Welborn and another person diving into the water to find the children.
Hairston was quite emotional during her testimony. At one point she was overcome by emotion and asked to take a break.
For leaving the children inside the vehicle unattended, Hairston was charged with two charges of endangering the welfare of a minor.
As part of an agreement in November 2017, when she pleaded guilty, she is required "to testify truthfully in the trial of Jonathan Welborn."
She received a sentence of 72 months probation and is required to attend parenting classes and mental health counseling. She was asked during the trial why she pleaded guilty.
"I felt like I failed as a mother," she said. "I could have just been a better mom … maybe the situation could have been different."
During her testimony, Hairston was asked about a letter she received from Welborn.
He wrote about the incident saying that police thought he was driving the vehicle during the incident.
"I don't know how they know so much without being there," Bush read from the letter.
Using a written transcript, Hampton asked about statements Hairston made to police about Welborn's relationship with his children.
"He loved our kids. He was a good dad. He did a lot for them," Hampton read from the transcript.
When asked by Hairston about her memory of the day, she explained that the incident was traumatizing.
"I couldn't even exist in society," she said.
A friend who was also at the home, Jericoe Cantrell, testified about his memory of the day.
He met Welborn, Hairston and the children at the swimming hole. Cantrell testified that he taught Sophia how to skip rocks.
After riding with the family to the home on Arkansas 298, Cantrell played two games of pool before taking a shower.
He testified that he told both Welborn and Hairston that they needed to leave and take their children home.
When the truck was reported missing, Cantrell, using a flashlight, helped to look for the vehicle. He explained that he thought the 2-year-old child may have "knocked the truck out of gear" causing it to roll backward.
When he saw a gas can floating in the pond, Cantrell jumped in to to help find the children, he said.
"When my flashlight hit that boy's face, I automatically knew that he was gone," he said.
The final witness of the day, Theresa Garrett, who lives nearby, testified that she was watching TV at her home when she saw a vehicle quickly backing away from the residence on Arkansas 298.
She did not know who owned the truck or who was driving at the time of the incident, she testified.
After ending at approximately 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the trial resumed at 9 a.m. today.