LITTLE ROCK — An Arkadelphia man who was wrongfully convicted on a drug charge and spent 11 years in prison was awarded $460,000 by the Arkansas Claims Commission on Tuesday.
“We’re quite pleased,” said Mark Hampton, attorney for Gyronne Buckley, who in 1999 was convicted in Clark County Circuit Court of two counts of delivery of a controlled substance and sentenced to life in prison. His convictions were vacated in 2010.
“It’s been a long, long road to obtain his freedom and just as long a road to get him exonerated,” Hampton said, ” and finally this award is something I strongly believe he deserves … money is not going to replace those eleven-and-a-half years in prison that he should not have been in to begin with.”
The Claims Commission concluded there was “irrefutable evidence” that Keith Ray, an agent with the Southeast Arkansas Drug Task Force, fabricated evidence and committed perjury in Buckley’s case.
Hampton said Tuesday that Ray resigned from the drug task force in early 2000 and that no one seems to know where he lives now. Norman Hodges, director of the Claims Commission, said recently the commission had been unable to locate Ray.
According to testimony during Buckley’s hearing before the Claims Commission last week, Ray also admitted to giving false information in a separate case involving the 1996 arrest of Rodney Bragg on drug charges. Bragg, who was later sentenced to life in prison, was released from custody in 2000 and his conviction was later overturned. He was awarded $200,000 by the Claims Commission for wrongful conviction.
In Buckley’s case, the state Supreme Court upheld his convictions but his sentence was remanded to circuit court, where it was reduced to two consecutive terms of 28 years in prison.
Tom Sullivan, a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law School, who began assisting Buckley in 2005, later developed information that a police informant who testified against Buckley at his trial had given police more than three dozen discrepancies in a video interview and at the trial. There were also indications that the informant was coached by Ray on what to say during the trial, according to Tuesday’s Claims Commission opinion.
“In the current claim there was irrefutable evidence that a videotaped interview with an informant was never disclosed to (Buckley’s) legal counsel before (his) trial and conviction occurred,” the commission’s opinion said. “The existence of the tape was, likewise, never disclosed to the prosecuting attorney.”
Buckley’s convictions were vacated on Nov. 1, 2010, and he was released from prison.
The $460,000 award recommended by the Claims Commission will be submitted to the Legislature during the fiscal session that begins Feb. 10 for final approval.