Supreme Court holds slayer not competent to waive appeal of death penalty | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Supreme Court holds slayer not competent to waive appeal of death penalty

Posted By on Thu, Mar 17, 2016 at 9:37 AM

In a 4-3 decision today, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed a Polk Circuit Court and found Karl Roberts was not competent to waive a post-conviction appeal of his death sentence in the 1999 slaying of his 12-year-old niece.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Rhonda Wood, said the circuit court erred in finding Roberts had the "capacity to choose between life and death and could make a knowing and intelligent waiver." He had waived appeal and post-conviction relief hearings, but changed his mind, which led to a federal order that state courts review his wwaiver.

In part, the opinion elaborated:

The State's expert, Dr. Mark Peacock, testified that he diagnosed Roberts with schizophrenia with themes of auditory and visual hallucinations and delusional beliefs. On direct examination, Dr. Peacock testified that there are varying degrees of schizophrenia and that this diagnosis does not necessarily mean that the person is incompetent to make a rational decision. However, when asked if Roberts was competent to make a decision whether to live or die, Dr. Peacock failed to reach an ultimate conclusion. 
In a dissent joined by Justice Paul Danielson, Chief Justice Howard Brill said the circuit court didn't make adequate findings on which to base the decision and he would have reversed with instructions for further review. He objected to the Supreme Court making its own judgment on facts, not having heard the testimony. Justice Courtney Goodson dissented as well. She said she couldn't conclude the lower court finding that Roberts was competent to waive appeal of a death penalty was erroneous.

Roberts' post-conviction appeal proceedings will now continue.

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