Appeals Court rejects Martin appeal on robbery, burglary conviction

A Pine Bluff man convicted on multiple charges after a home invasion robbery in White Hall in 2010 failed to convince the Arkansas Court of Appeals that his conviction should be thrown out.

Justin Jarquel Martin had argued that Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr. erred when he allowed the testimony of a member of the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory because the man did not personally conduct the tests on a gun that was admitted into evidence, but the state court disagreed.

Martin and two other men were arrested on Jan. 22, 2010, after they fled the scene of the armed home invasion. White Hall police recovered a shotgun and a handgun during their investigation. Martin was identified as the person who had the handgun, a Jennings nine-millimeter pistol. One live round and two shell casings were recovered from the victim’s driveway.

At the trial, James Looney, a firearm-and-toolmarks examiner at the crime lab, testified that the lab was asked to determine if the spent shell casings that were found were fired from the gun White Hall police recovered in a dumpster.

Looney testified that the case was assigned to Ron Anderjack, who had since retired, but that he (Looney) verified the results by examining the shell casings under a microscope.

Martin’s attorney objected to the testimony but Wyatt overruled the objection and allowed the jury to consider it.

That jury found Martin guilty of aggravated residential burglary, aggravated robbery, aggravated assault and two counts of committing a terroristic act. He was sentenced to a total of 22 years in prison.

In his appeal, Martin again argued that Looney’s testimony should have been excluded because he had no personal knowledge of the weapon, spent cartridge or test firings and said the testimony was “based on hearsay in that he relied upon another’s firearms examination.”

Martin also argued that the admission of the evidence was prejudicial to him because the use of a deadly weapon, a firearm, was a required element of three of his convictions.

The state contended that court rules permit the testimony of an expert witness who is allowed to offer an opinion on facts or data, and it is up to a jury to decide on the weight of the testimony.

Writing for the Appeals Court, Judge Brandon J. Harrison said the jury was aware of the fact that Looney had not performed the actual test and that he had relied instead on the case numbering system used by the crime laboratory to verify that the test cartridges were fired from that particular gun.

Harrison said Wyatt did not abuse his authority in permitting the testimony.