06/13/2024

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Prosecutors suddenly drop case against high school principal charged with murdering wife after medical examiner’s ‘position changed’

Amanda Dodson, Rocky Dodson

Amanda Dodson (left) in an obituary photo, Rocky Dodson (right) in a Boone County Sheriff’s Office mug shot after his 2022 arrest.

An Arkansas high school principal and basketball coach resigned after he was charged in March 2022 with murdering his wife, but he maintained his innocence. Now prosecutors have moved to dismiss the case against Rocky Dodson after a medical examiner was confronted with information that 36-year-old Amanda Dodson’s death might been caused by a fall.

The reversal by officials in Boone County comes two months before Dodson was set to stand trial and a matter of weeks after his defense attorney Shane Wilkinson argued that investigators simply assumed his client must have caused a “blunt force” throat injury his wife suffered in the early hours of March 6, 2022, at the couple’s Omaha home.

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    “The only facts provided are that Amanda Dodson was a chronic alcoholic who was discovered with an unexplained throat injury,” Wilkinson said, KTLO reported, before quoting the relevant portion of the affidavit: “This affiant believes that Rocky Brian Dodson was the only person present and who had the ability to inflict the blow on Amanda Dodson that caused her death.”

    Wilkinson accused the state of ignoring that Amanda Dodson’s death was “most likely” explained by a fall while “extremely intoxicated,” whereby she “struck her throat on some object such as a countertop,” the report said. The lawyer said the deceased’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was .468.

    When the second-degree murder case first came to light, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office said that Amanda Dodson died from a “severe injury,” vaguely citing investigative and “medical examiner findings” in support of the charge.

    At the time, Rocky Dodson was the principal of Omaha High School coached the boys basketball team. The news stunned the school district superintendent, not just because of Rocky Dodson’s arrest. Amanda Dodson had worked as a secretary in the Omaha and Cotter school districts, as her obituary noted.

    KY3 reported an even more stunning development on Friday, namely that the Fourteenth Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office decided to dismiss the case, believing it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as the cause of death is and has been “undetermined.”

    “It was told at that time this could not have been an accident. Based on that conversation and several subsequent conversations, it was determined we could move forward with a charge of second-degree murder against the defendant in this matter,” Prosecuting Attorney David Ethredge explained. “Recently we received information from defense lawyers involved in this case.”

    “Subsequent to that information being provided, myself and my deputy prosecutor visited with Dr. Cunningham, who is the ME responsible for this case,” he said. “Dr. Cunningham’s position changed from what we had been told initially, that this could not have been have been an accident, it could not resulted from an accidental fall.”

    “That course of conduct made it very different for us to look at,” Ethredge added.

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    The investigation began after Rocky called 911 to report that he woke up on March 6, 2022, to find that Amanda had died overnight. He reportedly said let her in the house when she came home drunk after 2 a.m. and that he went back to sleep.

    In a statement to Law&Crime, defense attorney Wilkinson said his client was arrested “before a single witness was interviewed” and “before the toxicology results were available.”

    He said the medical examiner and the sheriff’s office “should have both known that was an issue.”

    “The autopsy report came out in May of 2022 and listed the cause of death as ‘undetermined,’” Wilkinson said. “That much has been known for 736 days. This is not an 11th hour change of circumstance. The trial is set in July, so the facts finally had to be acknowledged.”

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