LITTLE ROCK — The state Supreme Court on Thursday granted a convicted killer’s request to reopen his case.
The court said Karl Roberts of Polk County may not have been competent when he waived his right to appeal his conviction in the 1999 slaying of his 12-year-old niece, Andria Nichole Brewer, whose body was found in a wooded area near Mena.
Roberts confessed to strangling and raping Brewer. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die in 2000, and at a 2003 hearing he waived his right to appeal his conviction. The Supreme Court later affirmed a circuit judge’s ruling that Roberts had knowingly and intelligently waived his rights.
Hours before he was to be executed in January 2004, Roberts changed his mind and authorized his attorneys to appeal his conviction, and a judge later issued a stay of execution.
After a circuit judge denied a request to reopen the case, Roberts appealed to the state Supreme Court. His attorneys argued that no relevant or contemporaneous mental evaluation was conducted when Roberts waived his right to appeal, so the waiver is invalid.
In a unanimous opinion Thursday, the Supreme Court said testimony that was given regarding Roberts’ competence was based on evaluations completed three years prior to the 2003 hearing in which he waived his right to appeal. Also, those evaluations examined whether Roberts was fit to proceed but did not examine whether he had the capacity to knowingly and intelligently waive his rights, the court said.
The court acknowledged that this finding contradicted its previous findings but said the earlier ruling was in error.
“Where we failed to ensure that Roberts was indeed competent to waive his rights to post-conviction relief, such extraordinary circumstances require this court to reopen the proceedings,” Justice Paul Danielson wrote in the opinion.
In a separate ruling, the court rejected arguments by Roberts that the jury at his trial was improperly influenced during the penalty phase by victim-impact testimony that included terms like “brutal” and “evil” and gruesome details of the crime.
The court said it has ruled in favor of defendants in other cases in which victim-impact testimony included recommendations for sentencing, but in Roberts’ case no specific sentence was recommended by the witnesses. It also said Roberts did not show that the gruesome testimony had an improper influence on the jury’s decision.
Brewer’s mother, Rebecca DeMauro, said Thursday she believes Roberts has been manipulating the system from the time he waived his appeal, then sought a last-minute stay.
“The state (Supreme Court) is allowing a confessed child rapist and killer to manipulate the system … it’s not fair … I’m just
frustrated,” she said.
DeMauro also said she is frustrated that taxpayers are footing the bill for Roberts’ manipulations. Once he had confessed, led investigators to Andria’s body and been convicted and sentenced to death, his rights should have ended there, she said.
Reporter Jeff Arnold in Fort Smith contributed to this report.