One week before the case goes to trial, the family of Ernest Hoskins Jr., the 21-year-old African-American man who was shot to death by his white boss in Arkansas last year, says they are angry and confused about the fact that the shooter has been charged with manslaughter rather than murder.
Chris Reynolds, the owner of Raynell Industries, was arrested for the shooting death of his employee. But the charges by the local police didn’t come for months, when the prosecutor’s office in Lonoke County formally charged him with the crime.
“The sad thing about this situation is that he has only been charged with manslaughter, which means he could be out of jail in three years,” said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Hoskins family, in an interview with BET.com.
“The family feels that there is no way Ernest would be out of prison in three years if it had been he who had shot his boss in cold blood,” Crump said.
Crump, who is also the attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin, said that the family is looking to get some explanation of the manslaughter charge when the trial begins June 4.
“To the family, this doesn’t make any sense at all,” Crump said. “They are depicting this as though it was an accident. But I don’t know what’s accidental about pulling the trigger at a man and shooting him.”
Hoskins was attending a lunch with three other workers when, at some point during the meal, Reynolds was said to have aimed a .44 Magnum pistol at Hoskins, fatally shooting him in the jaw. The charges were later downgraded to manslaughter, a development that angered Hoskins' wife and family.
Shortly after the shooting, Reynolds called the police to report that he had shot the young Black man, who was working on a degree from the University of Phoenix, according to the family’s lawyer.
In an interview with NBC, one of the workers, Rachel Watson, said she and other workers were sitting in Chris Reynolds’s kitchen when the employer began chiding the employee about his sales performance.
"Then they kind of argued a little bit. That's when he pulled out his gun [from] right behind him,” Watson said in the interview. “It was underneath his counter in, like, a basket. I didn't see it until he pulled it out."
She explained that she first considered that Reynolds might have been joking. The gun did not go off. But when he pointed the gun again at Hoskins, she said. “He cocked it back and pointed it straight back at his head and pulled the trigger."
She said Reynolds ran to the bathroom to get towels and called the police almost immediately.
"At that time, I told them I didn't know, because I didn't understand why someone could just point a gun at someone and shoot them,” she said in the interview. “So I told them I didn't know if it was on purpose or not. After sitting down and thinking about it, yes, I do think he did it on purpose."
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(Photo: Courtesy of Ernest Hoskins Jr. Family)