Lawyer: Judge ‘railroading’ Drew County murder defendant into early trial


LITTLE ROCK — A lawyer for a man charged with capital murder in Drew County asked the state Supreme Court on Thursday to stop a circuit judge from “railroading” his client into a trial before the defense team is ready.

An attorney representing Drew County Circuit Court argued that the case was not properly before the high court and that the judge did not abuse his discretion in setting a trial six months after the lead attorney was appointed to represent Daniel Pedraza, who is charged with beating a child to death.

The court heard oral arguments Thursday but did not immediately rule in Pedraza’s case. The state is seeking the death penalty for Pedraza in the death of 2-year-old Aubriana Coke.

Jeff Rosenzweig, lead attorney for Pedraza, told the court that Circuit Judge Bynum Gibson set Pedraza’s trial for Oct. 22 of last year, which was six months after Rosenzweig was appointed to represent Pedraza. The trial date was stayed because of Rosenzweig’s appeal.

Rosenzweig said Pedraza is a Mexican national and an Iraq war veteran, and the complexities involved in interviewing his relatives in Mexico and examining Pedraza for possible war-related mental problems require more than six months to prepare for trial.

“You just can’t do it as quickly as one would want to,” he said.

Justice Courtney Goodson asked Rosenzweig if he believed the short preparation time would give him grounds to appeal the results of the trial.

Rosenzweig said he could, but testimony that would aid in the appeal would not be collected.

“It’s important that the trial be done right, and be done right the first time,” he said.

Eileen Harrison, an attorney representing the Drew County Circuit Court, said Rosenzweig failed to show why he needed more time.

“Simply saying (Pedraza) has family members in Mexico is not good enough,” she said.

Harrison said the judge offered to meet in his chambers with attorneys for both sides to hear Rosenzweig’s arguments, but Rosenzweig insisted that the prosecuting attorney not be present, and the judge refused.

Justice Josephine Linker Hart asked Harrison if she believed Rosenzweig should have to reveal his trial strategy to the prosecuting attorney. Harrison said that would not have been necessary.

“(Gibson) was not asking for confidential strategy,” she said.

Harrison argued that the case should not be before the high court because Pedraza had another remedy, namely, direct appeal. She also said that if the court were to order a continuance, it would open the door to countless other defendants appealing to the Supreme Court for continuances.

Justice Donald Corbin asked Rosenzweig if he was asking the court for an indefinite continuance. Rosenzweig said he was only asking the high court to establish guidelines for circuit judges to follow in scheduling trials, and argued that the guidelines would prevent a flood of other requests for continuances.

The court did not indicate when it would rule.