James Bowden, 42, pleaded guilty today to the May 11 slaying of Yell County sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Mainhart and Rita Miller, 61, and Ciera Miller, 17, and was sentenced in a negotiated deal to life in prison without parole.

Bowden killed Mainhart during a traffic stop near Dardanelle. He’d earlier killed the Millers, mother and daughter of his former girlfriend, Haley McHam. McHam has said Bowden became enraged when she wouldn’t see him anymore. Mainhart was responding to a domestic disturbance call.


The plea bargain comes a bit more than a month before a scheduled July 27 trial in Yell County. He was charged with three counts of capital murder.  The penalty on conviction is the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Bowden was declared indigent and had a court-appointed attorney. Bill James of Little Rock became his attorney about a month ago and negotiated the plea deal. He said after the court proceeding this morning that it was “very unusual” to resolve a capital case so quickly. But he indicated there was little doubt about his client’s responsibility for the crime. The only contest would have been in sentencing.


James saidBowden wanted to resolve the matter quickly so as not to “add to the pain he’d already caused.”

Three members of Miller’s family testified in court that they wanted the death penalty. James said Deputy Prosecutor Marcus Vaden read a statement from Mainhart’s family that said they preferred this outcome to waiting 20 years for a death penalty to be imposed. Vaden presented the negotiated plea to the court, but did not offer an explanation for the office’s agreement to accept it, James said.


UPDATE: Deputy Prosecutor Vaden said he’d conferred with Prosecutor Tom Tatum and they agreed on the deal after talking with victims’ families.

“We think the facts of this one certainly warranted the death penalty,” Vaden said. But he said the problem in the case — and the Mainharts understood it particularly well because of a family history in law enforcement, including his father — is the application of the penalty. “The way it is applied, with the family having to deal with it on a recurring basis, it takes 20 to 30 years to do. I think they understood that if we could plead this to life without parole and put it to bed, that then we can try to begin to put the pieces back together as best we can.” He said some in the Miller family had similar thoughts.

“We hope the plea gives the family some peace,” Vaden said.

The family’s statement spoke of Mainhart’s life and dedication to being a fair officer and it emphasized the loss they’d feel in so many ways.  It concluded: