LITTLE ROCK — A state Supreme Court ruling Thursday gives a condemned killer another chance to argue that ineffective counsel contributed to his capital murder conviction.
The high court ruled that a Benton County circuit judge erred in denying Brandon Eugene Lacy’s motions for post-conviction relief without a hearing. The court reversed the lower court decision and ordered an evidentiary hearing on the motions.
In 2009, Lacy was convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery in Benton County Circuit Court and sentenced death in the 2007 death of Randall Walker.
Prosecutors presented testimony that Lacy hit Walker with a fireplace poker, stabbed him with a knife, slit his throat and set fire to Walker’s mobile home.
After his conviction, Lacy filed several motions in Benton County Circuit Court, including one arguing that his trial attorney was ineffective for failing to investigate and present a defense of mental disease and defect.
Without a hearing, Circuit Judge Robin Froman Green entered an order denying the motions. Green ruled that a forensic psychiatrist, along with Lacy’s expert psychologist, found no evidence of mental disease or defect in Lacy.
Green also said said Lacy’s attorney had no reason to call witnesses to testify about his history of alcoholism because voluntary intoxication is no defense to a crime and no evidence was submitted to establish that he lacked the capacity to understand that he had committed a crime.
In its 6-1 ruling Thursday to strike Green’s ruling, the Supreme Court noted language the trial judge used in denying Lacy’s motion.
The judge said Lacy’s attorney was not ineffective for failing to present testimony about his alcoholic blackouts “because ‘that testimony might not have been admissible,’ and even if it were, there was ‘possible strategic reasoning for the decision not to attempt to introduce it,’” the high court said.
“The circuit court’s use of tentative language, such as ‘might,’ ‘possible,’ and ‘may well have,’ in the aforementioned findings does not sustain its determination that the files and record conclusively show that Lacy is entitled to no relief,” the high court said. “Rather, the findings indicate that the circuit court’s decision not to hold a hearing was based, in part, on the circuit court’s suppositions about how trial council might have explained the decision they made at trial.”
In a dissenting opinion Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson said Lacy had failed to prove that his lawyer was so ineffective that he didn’t receive a fair trial.