State Supreme Court upholds judge’s rulings in four cases

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld four separate decisions by Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis that denied petitions from prison inmates who claimed their convictions were illegal.

Three of the cases stemmed from Lincoln County, where the inmates are being held, while the fourth involved an inmate who is being held in Jefferson County.

The Jefferson County case involves Michael L. Douglas, who was charged with rape in Drew County in 1984 when he was 15. The trial was moved to Ashley County and he was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Douglas appealed that conviction because the judgment and sentencing order was entered in Drew County, rather than in Ashley County where the trial took place. The Supreme Court rejected that appeal but ordered that the judgment and sentencing order be filed in the county where the trial took place.

Also in 1984, Douglas entered a guilty plea to three additional felony crimes and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, to run concurrently with the other sentence.

In 2007, Douglas pleaded guilty to eight additional felonies and was sentenced as an habitual offender to 40 years in prison.

In 2011, Douglas sought to have his sentences thrown out, a petition that Dennis denied, and he appealed that decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Among the reasons Douglas argued that his convictions were illegal were the the misfiling of the judgment and sentencing order in Drew County, that he was tried as an adult without a removal hearing from juvenile court, that he was not afforded due process because of the prior felony convictions used to determine his habitual offender status and claims of ineffective assistance of an attorney. He also claimed that two of the judgments in the 2007 case pertained to the prior rape conviction.

The Supreme Court ruled that the issue of the misfiling of the judgment and sentencing order had already been dealt with in a previous ruling, the appeal of the 2007 convictions does not question the validity of the judgment and commitment orders in those cases, and the claim of ineffective assistance of an attorney is not recognized as reasonable grounds for judicial relief.

Among the three cases from Lincoln County was the appeal of Milton Jasper Jones, who was convicted of capital murder in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison. In his appeal, Jones argued that a series of errors occurred in his trial, and that the state statute for capital murder does not legally require life without parole as the only possible sentence when the death penalty is not sought by the state.

Marion Wayne McVane was sentenced to 10 years in prison as a habitual offender for aggravated robbery and contended that the trial court violated certain court rules when it accepted his guilty plea, thereby violating his rights to due process.

Finally, Herbert Phillip Malone was found guilty of aggravated robbery, aggravated assault and theft of property in 1986 and was sentenced as a habitual offender to 348 years in prison. In Malone’s appeal, he contended that proper procedure was not followed when he was extradited from Tennessee to Arkansas after being arrested, and that his sentence of more than 300 years was outside the statutory range for the offenses he was convicted of.

Regarding the length of the sentence, the Supreme Court said it had dealt with that issue in a previous ruling and found that it had no merit.