On Thursday, Jan. 30, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a twenty-two page opinion denying Karl Roberts’ appeal of the Polk County Circuit Court’s May 2017 decision denying his petition for post-conviction relief. Only one justice, Josephine Linker Hart, dissented from the court’s decision. The State was represented at the May 2017 trial by Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner and Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jim Henderson. Scott Braden and other attorneys from the Federal Public Defender’s Office represented Roberts.
At the three day trial in Polk County Circuit Court, Roberts’ attorneys argued that his May 2000 trial was fundamentally unfair because his attorneys were ineffective. They argued, among other points raised in their 257 page trial brief, that Roberts was not competent to stand trial in 2000, that the case should have been tried in another county, that the jurors were biased, that the courtroom atmosphere was prejudicial, that the State presented false testimony at trial, that trial counsel offered insufficient mitigation evidence, that the jury did not consider the mitigation evidence offered, and that Roberts was categorically ineligible for the death penalty due to his alleged intellectual disability and alleged severe mental illness.
This ruling should effectively exhaust Roberts’ state court claims, and allow his federal habeas corpus action to proceed. Roberts has on at least three previous occasions attempted to drop all of his post-conviction rights and be executed, but his attorneys have argued that he is not competent to waive post-conviction proceedings. The majority of the members of the Arkansas Supreme Court disagreed.
“I sincerely hope that our community can finally see the justice system carry out the just and lawful death sentence that the jury imposed so long ago,” said Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner. “Roberts has lived much longer on death row than Andrea Brewer did, and to me that is fundamentally unfair to her family and to our community. I hope we can bring this family the closure they deserve very soon.”