NEWPORT, Ark. — An Arkansas farmer who last week joined a Facebook group dedicated to finding a nurse who vanished while jogging has been charged with her rape and murder, authorities said.
Quake Lewellyn, 28, of Jonesboro, faces charges of capital murder, rape and kidnapping in the death of Sydney Claire Sutherland, 25, of Newport. Lewellyn, who was arrested hours after Sutherland’s body was found Friday, is being held without bond in the Randolph County Jail.
Sutherland was last spotted alive Wednesday afternoon as she ran along Jackson County Road 41 between the cities of Newport and Grubbs. People magazine reported that Jackson County Sheriff David Lucas said last week that authorities had a confirmed sighting of the missing woman by a UPS driver.
“We have a confirmed sighting around 2:30 to 3 p.m. in the afternoon,” Lucas said. “She was on foot, walking and jogging.”
A post on a relative’s Facebook page showed Sutherland at the family member’s home around 1 p.m. the day she vanished.
“She went for a walk around 2:30 p.m. by her house on Highway 18,” the post read. “Please help us find our sassy!”
ABC7 in Little Rock reported that Sutherland’s cellphone was found about a quarter-mile from her home. Her vehicle and other personal belongings were found at her home.
Local, state and federal law enforcement agents began scouring the area where Sutherland was last seen. They also used cellphone data, as well as data from Sutherland’s Apple Watch, to determine her movements the afternoon of her disappearance.
Lucas said Friday during a news conference that Sutherland’s body was discovered around 2 p.m. that afternoon, buried on farmland in rural Jackson County. The sheriff declined to say what led searchers to the spot where Sutherland had been buried.
The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that the state crime lab used DNA testing to confirm Sutherland’s identity. Her cause of death has not been made public.
Lucas offered few details when speaking with reporters because Lewellyn had not yet been formally charged, but Lucas confirmed at that time that the suspect was a farmer in the area.
Lewellyn knew Sutherland prior to the crime, the sheriff said.
People magazine reported that Lewellyn was listed as a member of a Facebook group created in efforts to find the missing woman.
Lucas said Friday that he was not aware of any efforts by Lewellyn to join the volunteers searching for Sutherland before her body was found.
Hundreds of volunteers turned out over the two days that Sutherland was missing, according to Jackson County Emergency Management officials.
Lewellyn was in court Monday for an initial appearance. ABC7 reported that Mike McNeill, a special agent with the Arkansas State Police, testified during Lewellyn’s hearing that the defendant admitted to seeing Sutherland as she jogged along County Road 41.
Lewellyn told investigators he turned his truck around and forced Sutherland into the vehicle, McNeill said. He then drove about 3 miles to a farm, where he raped Sutherland and killed her before burying her body.
Rumors swirled in the community as investigators searched for Sutherland, who, according to her Facebook page, worked as a registered nurse at Unity Health Harris Medical Center in Newport. One rumor posited that Sutherland had accidentally been struck by a vehicle as she ran and the driver panicked.
Lucas told reporters Friday there had been no evidence showing that was the case.
“It makes it tough sometimes,” Lucas said of the rumors. “When the rumors start hitting, our phones start ringing. It hinders us quite a bit. It don’t really hinder us, but it slows us down some.”
Like Lewellyn, Lucas and others involved in the case had known Sutherland, who grew up in Jackson County. KAIT in Jonesboro reported that Lucas told reporters during the search for the missing woman that his daughters went to school with Sutherland.
“It’s taken a toll, it really has. Just because I know the people of this county. I know this family personally. I know this young lady personally. I’ve known her and watched her grow up,” Lucas said last week, according to the news station. “It hits me personally. And that’s another reason why we want to work so hard and try to find her.”
Following Lewellyn’s arrest on Friday, the sheriff said he knew the suspect’s family as well.
Watch Friday’s news conference below, courtesy of KNWA in northwest Arkansas.
Prosecuting Attorney Henry Boyce said Monday that he, too, knows both families. He vowed to maintain his objectivity in the case.
“It’s hard to live your life in a community of this size and not know just about everybody,” Boyce told KAIT. “Although it may be impactful on the tragedy, it doesn’t affect my judgment.”
Unity Health Harris Medical Center issued a statement Friday after Sutherland’s body was found.
“All of us at Unity Health are deeply saddened to hear of the loss of our precious co-worker Sydney Sutherland,” the statement read. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends. She will be forever missed.”
Lewellyn is an award-winning farmer who, along with his father and grandfather, was named Jackson County’s Farm Family of the Year in 2016. Lewellyn Farms is comprised of 5,800 acres in Jackson, Independence, Poinsett and Craighead counties, according to the Democrat Gazette.
Cox Media Group