BY LEANN DILBECK –
Circuit Judge J.W. Looney signed an order further denying Karl Roberts attempt to seek “relief” from his 2000 murder conviction. The document was prepared by Polk County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Williamson and filed in Polk County Circuit Clerk’s office Wednesday, June 30, 2010. The order denies the post-conviction relief sought under Rule 37 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure by Roberts’ public defender. The circuit court ruling could have been appealed within 30 days of the decision or 30 days after the entry of this last order.
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 11 years after Brewer’s murder.
Williamson commented on the newest development in the case by saying, “Post-conviction relief in state and federal court proceedings in capital cases are unique. Since it is a death sentence under review our courts are extremely careful to give a full review and to afford the convicted every opportunity available, which means realistically there are multiple exceptions for every rule.”
The order filed Wednesday was requested by Judge Looney in a December 31, 2008, 5 page letter to Roberts’ public defender denying Roberts’ 252 page ‘Petition for Post Conviction Relief.’ Roberts’ public defender, Julie Brain, argued in the appeal that Roberts’ was incompetent to stand trial, deprived of a fair trial due to pretrial publicity, and had ineffective counsel among other arguments.
In Looney’s 2008 letter, he denied Brain’s arguments point by point. The order filed in Polk County Circuit Court Wednesday is the first new development in the case since 2008. The case had already been previously stalled as the lengthy appeals process took the case forward to U.S. District Court in the summer of 2005 and the presiding judge became ill resulting in the file falling dormant until the presiding judge died in 2007. At such time, the case then was re-assigned to U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf who halted all federal proceedings at the end of 2007 until all claims in state court were exhausted.
When asked what the next step will be to bring the case to closure, Williamson speculated, “Since no appeal has been filed after two earlier dates have arguably passed since circuit court denial of Rule 37 relief, we can only presume Roberts will file his appeal to the Arkansas State Supreme Court within the next 30 days after entry of this last order. The circuit court ruling will be reviewed by state supreme court. If Judge Looney’s ruling is upheld, then most likely Roberts will continue with his habeas case now pending in federal court since his state court remedies would be exhausted…assuming of course his attorneys find no other state court challenge to make. In death penalty cases under our present system, justice is neither sure nor swift. My greatest sympathies remain with Andi’s family. ”