Ark. man pleads not guilty in stabbing of new wife

A newlywed accused of stabbing his pregnant wife pleaded not guilty to two counts of capital murder Thursday after the woman and baby died in western Arkansas.

A judge explained the charges filed against James Herring, who is accused of stabbing his wife, Celestia Duffin, in the chest Tuesday.

Duffin, who was nearly seven months pregnant, ran to a nearby police station and collapsed as blood soaked her blouse. Emergency responders rushed her to the hospital and delivered her son prematurely, but both Duffin and her baby died.

The judge on Thursday appointed a public defender to represent Herring, prosecutor Dan Shue said. Ray Spruell, the public defender, declined to comment, noting he hadn't yet received prosecutors' discovery files on the case.

Herring and Duffin had been married for about a week, but Herring told investigators they were already talking about divorce, Fort Smith police spokesman Sgt. Daniel Grubbs said.

Authorities said Herring stabbed Duffin in the chest while she was driving and caused her to crash into a utility pole.

The 32-year-old woman managed to run to a nearby police station, where she said, "Help me," before falling to the floor.

About the same time, someone called police about the accident and officers found Herring, who appeared to be in a state of shock, police said.

He told investigators that he wanted a divorce, but Duffin didn't want to sign the paperwork, a detective said in an affidavit.

"He said all he could think about was 'until death do we part' at which time he got his pocket knife, and stabbed Ms. Duffin," the detective wrote.

Herring told investigators he found the knife, which he said was white and had the word "Freedom" on it, a few days earlier, the detective wrote.

Authorities found a knife covered in blood in the car, the detective wrote.

Herring also said that by stabbing Duffin, he thought he was protecting her, according to the affidavit.

"He indicated he intended to kill her to protect her," the detective wrote. "I also asked Mr. Herring if he intended to protect the baby by killing it as well and he stated 'Yes,'" the detective wrote.

Shue, the local prosecutor, said he'll decide within the next few weeks whether to pursue the death penalty.

In the meantime, Herring is being held without bond at a jail in western Arkansas' Sebastian County. His next court date hasn't been scheduled.

A phone number listed on one of his court documents wasn't working Thursday.


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