BY MELANIE BUCK –
Arkansas State Representative of District 94 Rebecca Petty has won justice by way of House Bill 1012 for her daughter, Andi Brewer, the 12-year old rape and strangulation victim of Karl D. Roberts in 1999. The bill, named Andi’s Law, gives victims and their families the right to watch the execution of their attacker either in an adjacent room to the execution room or via a live secure satellite feed to a private location on prison grounds. “It was quite the fight, to put it lightly. It’s where we need it to be and I couldn’t be more pleased. To give crime victims part of their voice back was what this was all about,” Petty said.
Petty took office in January and made her first priority to fight to honor Andi and to revise and protect victim’s rights. “I didn’t speak of the situation for many years, probably about 10 years or so. Every now and again I would gripe about how bad we were treated the night that Roberts was supposed to be executed, but was not. I felt victimized by the way we were treated. For many years, it tormented me,” said Petty.
Petty said the night that Roberts was scheduled to die, she and several family members traveled to the prison to witness the execution. However, when they arrived, only five family members were allowed inside, but not to the execution room. They were taken to a room inside the prison with a small black and white television that was wired to the execution room. “When you’ve prepared yourself to watch an execution, the emotional trauma, is a huge deal. I found out hours before the execution that we weren’t going to get to view it because of state law. There was no victim coordinator in there with us, no one but us five,” Petty recalls.
She added, “Not only that, but my family that came to support us weren’t even allowed onto prison grounds. They initially asked them to leave.” Petty said the family was threatened with arrest by prison officials if they didn’t leave. Colleen Nick of the Morgan Nick Foundation was with the family and she had been working closely with state police to get the Amber Alert going in Arkansas. Petty recalled, “Colleen said, ‘this is wrong,’ and through her, they allowed my family to go into a tent outside while we were in the prison.”
While Petty and her family awaited the execution, they found out that instead of Andi’s family witnessing the execution, 12 strangers would sit in the room ‘behind the glass’ to witness what Petty and her family felt was their right, and their duty to Andi. “All these people that didn’t even know her, citizens, prosecutors, FBI, media, were allowed to go into the room but I, her mother, that taught her to talk and walk, was not allowed to go in and take care of Andi’s last bit of business.” Petty and her daughter, Melanie Thompson, recalled feeling victimized by the entire process. Thompson said, “It reopened those wounds again, even as young as I was, it just reopened all those other wounds.”
Andi’s Law gives the right for 6 family members to watch from the adjacent viewing room and 12 members through a live secure satellite feed to a private room. Now, instead of only 5, a total of 18 family members can view the execution. Thompson said, “I feel like we get the choice and now that I’m a mother and I’m older, I want to make that choice myself. I don’t want someone else to choose for me. I don’t want the state to say whether I can or can’t.”
Roberts was initially convicted in May 2000 of the murder of his niece (by marriage), Andi Brewer. He was sentenced to die by lethal injection. Roberts waived his right to challenge his conviction and sentence in 2000 in Polk County Circuit Court. As is customary in death penalty cases, the Arkansas Supreme Court reviewed the case for any errors that may have occurred in the trial courts (Polk County Circuit Court).
Just hours before Roberts was scheduled for execution in January 2004, he allowed his attorneys to seek an appeal and received a stay of execution based on his competency to waive his rights. Ultimately, the Arkansas Supreme Court re-opened his case on February 14, 2013 following numerous legal actions and delays.
Circuit Court Judge J.W. Looney presided over a hearing in December 2014 and stated in his decision that Roberts is indeed “competent to knowingly and intelligently waive all rights to post conviction relief and has the capacity to choose between life and death (i.e. to elect execution) and to forego representation.” His case continues in the Court of Appeals.
Prior to passage of HB 1012, only 5 family members could watch via live feed, after you petitioned the warden. “The way it is written now, if siblings wish to view, they now have that right. That’s why I think that this piece of legislation is important. It gives victims of violent crimes, their voices back. My daughters, my parents were the forgotten voices. But now with this piece of legislation, they can choose and see to the last bit of business that Andi has on this planet. That was the whole point of the bill it was about seeing justice served for a 12-year old little girl who was brutally raped and left out in the woods naked and alone,” Petty said. “Until things are done right, I’m not stopping. This is an issue that needs to be closed for the entire community and Andi’s family.”
“I think for me to be her mother and be able to stand in the well in the House of Representatives and be able to present this piece of legislation for my daughter is an honor. When I asked the body of legislatures that I would appreciate a good vote, I added, ‘if this passes, it’s for you Andi.” And it passed, 95-0 in the House and 34-0 in the Senate. Andi’s Law now sits on the Governor’s desk awaiting his official signature.