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Two Polk County Convictions Upheld in Arkansas Court of Appeals

BY MELANIE BUCK –

Opinions were released last week in the cases of two persons from Polk County who sought relief from the Arkansas Court of Appeals in cases that were both originally tried in Polk County. Both Lori Rose and Lance Harjo presented their cases to the state court, each having unrelated cases, and each were affirmed by the high court judges.

Harjo, age 44 of Mena, was sentenced to 136 years in Polk County Circuit Court on June 9, 2016 by a jury of his peers following a one day trial where he was found guilty of seven criminal counts. Those counts include: Trafficking Methamphetamine for which he was sentenced to 40 years; Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, 20 years; Simultaneous Possession of Drugs and Firearms, 40 years; Maintaining a Drug Premises, 10 years; Use of a Communication Device, 10 years; Possession of a Defaced Firearm, 6 years; and Possession of Marijuana with the Purpose to Deliver, 10 years. Each sentence is set to run consecutively, leaving Harjo facing a 136-year sentence in ADC. He will not be eligible for parole for more than 40 years.

In his current appeals case, Harjo and his attorney challenged his conviction on the basis of  “the finding that he constructively possessed the drugs and firearms found during the search and that security cameras placed around the property constituted ‘communications devices’ under Arkansas Code.”

According to the slip opinion released by the Arkansas Court of Appeals, Judge Larry D. Vaught stated, “Both of Harjo’s points on appeal are, essentially, challenges to the sufficiency of evidence.” Vaught goes on further to state, “Constructive possession can be inferred when the contraband is found in a place immediately and exclusively accessible to the defendant and subject to his control… We are satisfied that substantial evidence was presented at trial to support the jury’s finding that Harjo constructively possessed the contraband found in the home.”

On the challenge of considering security cameras as ‘communication devices,’ the court also disagreed. The cameras at Harjo’s residence were positioned around the outside of the home and “transmitted images to a multiplex video monitor located on the desk in the master bedroom (the same desk where the contraband was found).” According to Arkansas code, a communication device is considered to be “any public or private instrumentality used or useful in the transmission of a writing, sign, signal, picture, or sound of any kind.”

As such, the Court of Appeals affirmed the original decision of Polk County Circuit Court. “Our law is clear that a party is bound by the scope and nature of his directed-verdict motion and cannot change the grounds on appeal.” Harjo remains in the custody of the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

In the case of Lori Rose, her attorney contends that her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to: file a motion to suppress; introduce a text message; meet with Rose to prepare for trial; present witnesses on Rose’s behalf; and involve Rose in the jury selection. Rose was convicted and sentenced in October 2014 to 36 years on charges of Aggravated Residential Burglary, Aggravated Assault, Domestic Battery (2nd Degree), and Terroristic Threatening (2nd Degree) for the shooting of Billy Vaught in his home in November 2013.

Rose’s new attorney, Ernie Witt, of Witt Law Firm in Ozark, Ark., argued in Polk County Circuit Court in June 2016 that Rose suffered ineffective assistance of counsel during her original trial when she was represented by Greg Klebanoff of Fayetteville.

This was her third appeal in the case. “We do not reverse the denial of postconviction relief unless the circuit court’s findings are clearly erroneous,” stated Judge Robert Galdwin of the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Rose remains in the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

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