BY LEANN DILBECK –
A Polk County jury rendered a verdict of guilty on the fourth and final day of the 1st degree murder trial for Cheyenne Fink. The jury was handed the case at 6:19 p.m. by Circuit Judge J.W. Looney and returned with their verdict at 7:40 p.m.
As the court entered the sentencing phase to determine if Fink would receive 10-40 years or a life sentence, family of the victim, Loyd Cole, took the stand. First his son, Steve, followed by his wife of 58 years, Maxine testified to jurors the pain and anguish they have experienced since December 3, 2012. Maxine’s extreme pain and grief still very raw as she testified through tears describing every day since the murder as “very difficult.” She spoke of her loneliness and sadness, “I lost my husband, my best friend… the man I love. No day goes by that I don’t cry […] I’m doing this for him… he didn’t deserve to die this way… left in the ditch like a piece of trash.” Both Maxine and Steve said they were not angry or seeking revenge but simply wanted justice.
None of Fink’s family testified on her behalf during the sentencing phase but one former counselor, Phillip Hatley, told jurors that he did not think a life sentence was a good idea for Fink.
Public defender, Gina Reynolds, attempting to steer jurors away from a life sentence said, “We believe she is salvageable.” Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner argued that it was “not a risk that we needed to take,” and closed with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” upon which, the jury returned with a life sentence. Fink’s parents were present in the courtroom at the time the verdict and sentencing were read.
It was on the fourth and final morning of the trial that Fink’s 3-member public defender legal team called their star witness in their defense, Dr. Richard Rogers, one of the country’s leading psychologists on “criminal responsibility scales” and evaluations. Dr. Rogers has been involved in high-profile cases such as John Wayne Gacy and John Hinkley, Jr.
Dr. Rogers was compensated for his evaluations of Fink and testimony by the public defender’s commission at a rate of $350 / hour or $3,500 per diem, testifying in court that his current bill on the Fink case alone was over $40,500.
In meticulous detail, Dr. Rogers discussed during questioning by Reynolds of the defense, the methodologies utilized in Fink’s assessments and her multiple psychological disorders that included auditory hallucinations and explosive anger, which they believe to be the catalyst that caused Fink’s actions on the morning of December 3. Rogers testified that the three standards required by Arkansas law to prove insanity or not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect:
1.) Mental disease was present
2.) Fink understood the criminality of her conduct but was unable to conform her conduct the standards of the law
3.) Therefore, should not be held criminally responsible.
Dr. Paul Deyoub, a forensic psychologist who contracts with Arkansas State Hospital, testified for the prosecution. He agreed with Rogers concerning Fink having psychological disorders but disagreed with Rogers’ assessment that Fink could not control her conduct.
Before closing arguments began, the defense filed several routine motions for a mistrial arguing that the prosecution had failed to prove their case, of which, all were denied by Judge Looney.
Fink had sat emotionless through the entire day of the trial until closing arguments began, at which time, she began to weep. In closing arguments, Riner went through the evidence again for jurors that proved Fink committed the murder and those facts were never challenged by the defense. He showed that Fink purposefully selected her target of opportunity, an 80-year old man, who was hard of hearing and walked with a cane. He successfully minimized the conclusion of Rogers on her inability to control her conduct when he reviewed with jurors that from the 36 stab wounds inflicted on Cole, only 2 were inflicted post-mortem, proving in Riner’s theory, that she stabbed enough times to “get the job done.” Riner said Fink then had the mental cognition to “get out of there,” to go home and pull off her blood soaked clothes and put in the washing machine, telling her mother to wash them, and then hide the murder weapon. Riner said that Fink had purposefully attempted to steer investigators away from the discovery of certain evidence.
The third member of Fink’s public defender defense team, Lloyd Warford, leaned heavily on the testimony given by Dr. Rogers. He added that her actions were “random” and that she had not purposefully left the house to kill that day; therefore, jurors could not convict her on a murder 1 charge. He challenged them that if they held reasonable doubt that her actions were caused by anything else, they were required to return a not guilty by reason of mental defect or disease verdict. “I’m not asking you to let Cheyenne go free but please don’t do as the prosecution is asking you to do and ignore her mental disease.”
Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner expressed his gratitude for the justice system and the jurors who served on this case, “Thursday evening a Polk County jury composed of twelve citizens rendered their verdict on a gruesome, terrifying murder case. For very little pay, these twelve people set aside four days of their lives to serve. Taking their duty as jurors seriously, they were attentive, focused, and diligent as we attorneys presented evidence, testimony and argument. Then they deliberated into the night to reach two separate verdicts, one on guilt and one on a recommended sentence.
“For all the negative things that are said and written about our jury system, I ask you to pause for a moment and be thankful to God for inspiring our Founders to give us a system of government where basic questions are still decided by the people.”