BY MELANIE BUCK –
On the 18th anniversary of her death, Andi Brewer’s family found themselves back in Polk County Circuit Court watching a post-conviction relief hearing for her convicted rapist and murderer, Karl Roberts. Roberts’ defense team continues to seek relief for him arguing ‘ineffective counsel’ in the latest legal maneuvering that has spanned almost two decades and in stark contrast to Roberts who, on September 18, 2013, sat on the stand in the same courtroom and told the court, “I’m ready to go.”
Karl Roberts was convicted by a Polk County jury on May 24, 2000 of capital murder and sentenced to death for the 1999 rape and strangulation of his then 12-year-old niece, Andria Nichole Brewer. Roberts originally stated that he would appeal his conviction. As is customary in death sentence cases, the Arkansas Supreme Court conducted a review of his file and concluded that there was no evidence of a wrongful conviction and upheld the sentence in April 2003. However, only hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, Roberts directed his defense team to file a stay of execution motion on January 6, 2004, and a long series of legal motions and delays began unfolding that has resulted in Roberts remaining on death row at the Arkansas Department of Corrections 18 years after Brewer’s murder.
The Supreme Court of Arkansas ruled in 2016 that Polk County “erred” in its findings that Roberts has the “capacity to choose between life and death and to knowingly and intelligently waive his right to post-conviction relief.”
In the latest proceedings, a Rule 37 hearing is being held to prove Roberts had ineffective counsel during his original trial in 2000. To prove the findings, Roberts’ new team of lawyers, of which four are conducting the current hearing, have called all four of Roberts’ previously lawyers to the witness stand, as well as three jurors from the trial.
On Monday, May 15, 18 years to the day after Brewer’s death, Roberts’ hearing began. His current defense team worked endlessly to put holes in the stories of each juror, alleging that then Sheriff Mike Oglesby, as well as presiding Judge Gayle Ford, tampered with the jury. They also alleged that one female juror “took a pork chop to the grave” of the victim before serving on the jury and then allegedly told the story to one of the defense lawyers, Don Williams, to which she exclaimed, “Well, no! That would be dumb, wouldn’t it?” – meaning she neither took the food to Brewer’s grave nor did she tell anyone she did. With all three former jurors, the defense also focused on how they filled out their jury forms and whether they were given any assistance by law enforcement.
Judge Ford and now U.S. Marshal Oglesby both took the stand as well and both stated they never had any interaction with the jurors other than what was appropriate in the courtroom. Oglesby also testified that he “stayed in his office” during most of the trial because he was going to be called as a witness and that the only law enforcement that would have interacted with the jury is when their lunch was delivered.
In their next phase, the defense called each of the previous lawyers and mitigators of Roberts to the stand. Each gave testimony of the long hours and hard work they put into the case. Roberts’ current team, led by Don Braden of Little Rock, allege that his previous defense should have used his diagnosis of schizophrenia as a defense and should have filed for a change of venue. However, as previous lead attorney Buddy Hendry claimed, the trial has to remain in the district and evidence has to be presented to back the claim that a fair trial cannot be given in the county the crime occurred. Hendry said it became apparent for various reasons that Montgomery County wouldn’t take the case and Garland County couldn’t take the case, leaving it in Polk County.
Cheryl Upshaw Bernard, mitigator during the original trial phase, testified of the enormous amount of police presence during that time. She admitted that the defense had requested the extra security due to death threats made against them and the defendant. However, she seemed disturbed at the amount of security given and now thinks it was “excessive” and that it created “tension” and a “harsh atmosphere.”
The defense also focused on an alleged fourteen speeding tickets the defendant had received, using that to point to “impulse control” issues.
As of press time, the defense continued calling witnesses on Tuesday, May 16. The Pulse will carry the conclusion of the hearing in next week’s edition and online at MyPulseNews.com.