Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Death Appeal Stalls in Court

Death Appeal Stalls In Court

Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 10:28 am
By Jeff Arnold

Karl Douglas Roberts' appeal of his death sentence remains stalled in Polk County Circuit Court, 18 months after a judge rejected his claim he had ineffective counsel when he was tried and sentenced.
On May 23, 2000, a Polk County jury convicted Roberts, 42, of capital murder and sentenced him to die for the rape and strangulation of Andria Nichole Brewer, his 12-year-old niece, whom he murdered a year earlier.

Within two weeks of being condemned, Roberts announced he wouldn't appeal the sentence.
Although he waived his right to appeal, the Arkansas Supreme Court did a mandatory review of his case for any errors that could have led to a wrongful conviction, and upheld Roberts' death sentence in April 2003.
Then on Jan 6, 2004, only hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, Roberts allowed his defense team to file a motion to stay his execution.
The motion was granted by U.S. District Judge George Howard and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The appeals journey through federal court and back to state court before returning to federal began.
The case moved forward in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Arkansas until the summer of 2005, but Howard became ill and the case lay dormant until the judge's death in 2007.
On April 21, 2007, the case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf, who stayed the federal proceedings in December 2007, until all claims in state court are exhausted.
Roberts' defense team filed a 245-page "Rule 37" petition in Polk County Circuit Court, claiming Roberts had ineffective counsel, couldn't receive a fair trial in Polk County and was incompetent to stand trial, among other arguments.
A Rule 37 petition argues a defendant had ineffective counsel at trial and/or sentencing.
Following a December 2008 hearing, Polk County Circuit Court Judge J.W. Looney issued a five-page letter in January 2009 ruling on Roberts' petition, rejecting each argument point-by-point.
The majority of the arguments raised by Roberts' federal public defender were previously rejected by the Arkansas Supreme Court, waived by Roberts or outside the scope of a Rule 37 petition, according to Looney's findings.
At the conclusion of the five-page letter, Looney requested Polk County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Williamson prepare an order based on his finding.
On Sept. 29, Looney sent a letter to the federal public defender and Williamson - and placed a copy of it in the case file - that read, "I just checked the file in this matter and note that an order was never entered although I provided a decision letter on January 5, 2009."
Until the order is entered, Roberts' defense team is prevented from appealing Looney's decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court, because it isn't official without the order.
Neither Looney nor Williamson responded to messages seeking comment.
Once an order is entered and Roberts' appeal moves forward, the Arkansas Supreme Court will either remand the case to Polk County Circuit Court for further action or affirm Looney's decision, which will return the case to federal court.
Roberts confessed to raping and strangling Brewer on May 17, 1999, two days after she went missing from her father's Hatfield home.
Initially, Roberts denied any knowledge of his niece's disappearance, but later led investigators to her broken body next to a remote logging road near Cove.
Roberts' trial began exactly one year after his confession.
His defense team didn't deny Roberts raped and strangled his niece, but attorneys argued he wasn't guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
Roberts suffered brain damage when he was hit by a truck when he was 12 years old.
The defense provided experts who told jurors the injury left Roberts with no impulse control or the ability to understand consequences and reason. Prosecution experts acknowledged Roberts' brain damage, but said the injury did not explain his actions.
The jury rejected Roberts' defense and his plea for mercy, finding him guilty of capital murder and sentencing him to death.
In a letter he wrote after he was sentenced, to Brewer's mother, Rebecca DeMauro, Roberts simply stated "I have no excuse."