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Supreme Court Re-Opens Roberts Death Penalty Case

Andi-Brewer-2Victim’s family reacts to latest decision

BY LEANN DILBECK – 

The Arkansas Supreme Court granted a petition by Arkansas death-row inmate, Karl D. Roberts, to have his case re-opened in Polk County Circuit Court in a decision handed down by the state’s highest court last Thursday, February 14.

“This is a very frustrating decision,” said Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner who inherited the case from 2000 when Roberts was convicted of capital murder for the May 15, 1999 rape and strangulation death of his 12-year old niece (by marriage), Andria Nichole Brewer.

Police, family and an entire community searched for Brewer, who had been missing for three days, before Roberts confessed and led authorities to her broken body under a brush pile down an old logging road in Cove. Roberts’ signed confession included the details of how she had fought till the end, promising not to tell about the rape if Roberts would just take her home.

Roberts’ trial before a jury of 12 of his peers began exactly one-year to the day of his confession in Polk County Circuit Court, who ultimately found him guilty and returned a recommendation of death by lethal injection on May 19, 2000.

On June 13, 2000, Roberts filed a waiver of appeal requesting that his death sentence be carried out without his court appointed attorneys taking any further action to challenge his conviction or his sentence. On July 19, 2000 a hearing was held in which Roberts reiterated to Judge Gayle Ford his desire to forego any challenge to his conviction or death sentence.

As is customary in all death penalty cases, the Arkansas Supreme Court reviewed Roberts file and upheld that the trial judge, Judge Gayle Ford made no error in the rulings he made in the case. Furthermore, on May 20, 2003 the Polk County Circuit Court advised Roberts of his availability to argue “Rule 37.5” postconviction relief, which afforded him a second opportunity to appeal based on ineffective counsel. (A Rule 37.5 petition is a collateral attack on the trial verdict, which says in essence, that although the Judge made no errors, the attorneys representing the defendant erred so badly that he did not receive a fair trial.)

Still indigent, Roberts affirmed that he understood he was under sentence of death and was effectively waiving his rights to seek further relief. Roberts further testified that nothing had changed regarding his ability to intelligently and knowingly waive his rights and that he was not under the influence of medication or any other substance in making this waiver.  Judge Ford then asked Roberts what he wanted to happen in his case having waived all of his rights of which he replied, “Well, I don’t think a guilty person should be allowed to live or he should at least be able to accept responsibility, his punishment…whatever it may be.” He affirmed to the court that he understood he was choosing death over life.

Roberts was scheduled for a double execution on January 6, 2004, after having visited with family and having consumed what was supposed to be his last meal, Roberts allowed his attorneys to file a motion in federal courts. U.S. District Judge George Howard of the the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Roberts a “stay.” Thus began the long journey through federal courts back to state court.

In summarizing countless legal maneuvers, the state’s highest court reversed itself. Riner said, “Curiously, to reverse itself the Supreme Court used a decision which came a few months after its first decision that Roberts’ waiver of a rule 37 hearing was valid.”  After affirming his right to waive his appeal in 2003, the court’s most recent decision sides with Roberts claim “that because no relevant or contemporaneous mental evaluation was conducted at the time of his waiver…, his waiver was invalid. He asserts that a timely mental evaluation, for the specific purpose of assessing a death-row inmate’s competency to waive postconviction review, must be conducted before such a waiver.” Even though trial courts had found him mentally competent to stand trial.

“This decision in this case makes me wonder if the Arkansas Supreme Court isn’t philosophically opposed to the death penalty,” said Riner. “This is a narrow decision that is very far reaching.”

Riner explained that if the Rule 37.5 petition is granted, the case would be back to square one.  The Federal Habeas action would be moot.  The entire process would start over.  For instance, if the Court reversed the death sentence there would be a new sentencing trial. Or, as Riner explained, the process could produce a new sentencing trial that renders the same recommendation of the death penalty as the 12-member jury in 2000.

This decision procedurally turns back the clock to 2003. “Roberts unwittingly has benefitted from waiving his right to a Rule 37.5 hearing in 2003.”

Riner confirmed that this process will not be a quick one with both state and federal appeals Roberts can pursue. While the defense has never denied his guilt, “It is premature to say that his lawyers are not trying to overturn his guilty verdict. They probably will try as part of their continued wallering. They may attack the guilt/innocence phase as well as the sentencing phase in their Rule 37 petition.  I also suspect that the Federal Habeas petition includes an allegation that his confession was involuntary, but I haven’t reviewed it.”

Riner has not dismissed that Roberts continued legal maneuvers couldn’t land him a new trial. “Then all of the detectives and everyone involved is gone or memory of the events are faded.” The Court’s recent decision holds that his waiver may not have been voluntary due to the possibility that he could have been mentally unable to understand the consequences of his waiver. He continued,  “Best case scenario, this might come to a close in five years…there’s just no way of knowing how long the process will take,” citing how long it took it to move from federal courts back to the circuit court. The case remained languished in U.S. District Court with the judge who granted the stay in 2004, Judge Howard, and wasn’t assigned to a new judge until Howard’s death in 2007 before now being sent back to the same court that convicted him 14 years later.

BREWER’S FAMILY REACTS TO RECENT DECISION

“This is a gross manipulation of our justice system and a complete waste of taxpayer’s money,” said the mother of the slain Andria Brewer. “It’s my job as Andi’s mother to see to her last business on this Earth,” as she spoke of her now 14-year battle to see justice.  DeMauro is not only an advocate for her daughter but became a very active, outspoken, and successful advocate for children/victims rights.  Most recently, DeMauro was a driving force behind Arkansas SB52 that would allow victim’s families to witness an execution. It passed the Senate 30-0 and is now scheduled to go before the House.

“I don’t want anyone to think I’m fighting for the death of another human being but I 100% agree with the jury’s recommendation. They judged him rightly and I believe that it is the victim’s rights that should be upheld. I believe in this country and our system and I will fight for the victim’s rights.”

DeMauro admitted that what she struggles with the most is the fact that this has drug on for so long and his guilt is not in question, “He’s a confessed child rapist and murderer.” For four years, he wanted death. He even said so in a letter of apology sent to DeMauro, “My actions have caused so many people heartache and loss including myself. I am truly sorry for everything, I have no excuse. Therefore, I accept the death penalty as my punishment. I realize how weak and unbecoming any words of mine are to you.”

While the process to see justice for Andi has been long, DeMauro has found a healthy balance of moving forward and rebuilding a happy life and continuing to fight for her daughter and other victims’ rights. Often criticized for being so outspoken, DeMauro has used her unfathomable pain to find a voice for victims…and those who can’t find their voice. She has taken an unconscionable evil act and is using it in a positive way.

By her definition, she’s forgiven Roberts, “I think the word forgiveness is misused a lot. If you define it as not letting a person who has wronged you or committed a crime against you or someone you love ruin you or your life. I mean, I let him [Roberts] ruin my life for a long time, ruin a marriage, cause unspeakable pain to think about what Andi went through until I got to a point and said, ‘God, you can have this.’ When I did that and stopped carrying that, I took my power back from Karl Roberts, so yes, I’ve forgiven him.”

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