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Shooter, 13, to seek rehearing on high court's insanity ruling

By ROB MORITZ

This article was published June 24, 2000 at 4:13 a.m.

— The attorney for Andrew Golden, the younger of two boys who killed four students and a teacher at Westside Middle School near Jonesboro two years ago, still wants his client to be allowed to argue that he was insane. So, he plans to ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to reconsider Thursday's ruling that denied him that right.

Meanwhile, Golden, 13, and Mitchell Johnson, 15, who were found delinquent in Craighead County juvenile court of killing five and injuring 10 others, remain in the custody of the state at the Alexander Youth Services Center near Little Rock.

The high court decision agreed with Golden's attorney's contention that Golden should have been allowed to argue that he was incompetent to stand trial. But the court also ruled that being allowed to present an insanity defense is not a juvenile's right. The law of the state must allow insanity as a defense in order for a juvenile to have such a right, but Arkansas' law does not provide such a right for juveniles.

Golden's attorney, Val Price of Jonesboro, a public defender, said Friday that he will ask the court to reconsider the ruling that denied the use of insanity as a defense. He has through July 10 to ask for a rehearing, according to the state Supreme Court clerk's office.

He declined to give specifics on what his argument for reconsideration might be.

If the high court declines to reconsider, or again affirms the Craighead County juvenile court's ruling, Price said he might ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.

The issue is critical to his defense of Golden, Price said, so he wants all legal questions about the insanity defense answered before his client goes back to juvenile court for a competency hearing.

Craighead County prosecutor Brent Davis said Friday that he was not surprised by the high court's decision and that he expected Price to ask for a rehearing. He said he doubts his office and the Arkansas attorney general's office will seek a rehearing on the Supreme Court's ruling on the competency issue.

Davis said the issue Price has raised brings juvenile law in Arkansas into uncharted waters.

"These are very unclear issues," he said. "No criteria under the [Arkansas Criminal] Code existed for dealing with competency in juvenile law."

Golden will stay in state custody while all the legal arguments are made, Davis said.

Price said he is not sure how he would defend his client in juvenile court without the insanity defense.

If his client is ruled competent to stand trial, Price said the case would go back to juvenile court for proceedings leading to another trial.

If his client is ruled incompetent, he will be sent to the State Hospital for a 10-month evaluation period, then be re-evaluated, Price said. If he is still deemed incompetent, he will remain at the State Hospital until he is found competent by a team of doctors. The doctors would then report to the judge, who, if he sees fit, would order hearings for a new trial, Price said.

Price and other juvenile court experts said Friday that the Supreme Court's decision to allow juveniles to argue they are incompetent was an important decision.

Price said the issues surrounding Golden are similar to a juvenile case in Fayetteville involving 12-year-old Michael Nichols, who faces an attempted murder charge in the shooting of a Prairie Grove police officer this year.

Washington County Juvenile Court Judge Stacey Zimmerman is allowing Nichols to be evaluated to see if he is competent to stand trial, and she has said he may use an insanity defense.

The Washington County prosecutor has objected to the judge's decisions. The trial is on hold until the competency evaluations are done on Nichols.

Zimmerman has issued a gag order in the case.

Saline County Juvenile Court Judge Gary Arnold said he recently postponed a decision on a juvenile case he is handling until the high court announced its decision on the issue.

"Certainly I think it is significant," Arnold said. "It was a gray area that needed clarification." Arnold declined comment on the Golden case.

Pulaski County prosecutor Larry Jegley said defendants, including juveniles, should be able to argue they are incompetent or that they are insane if they want.

"I'm all for the defendant having the opportunity to utilize every means at their disposal to somehow account for their behavior," he said.

Kathy L. Hall of Little Rock, an lawyer who has handled many juvenile cases on appeal, said Friday the competency aspect of the Supreme Court ruling was not a surprise "because the juvenile court is based on an assumption that juveniles are incompetent to begin with."

She said she disagrees with the court's decision not to allow juveniles to argue an insanity defense.

"I think the court has confused insanity with incompetency," she said, noting that the court decision states: "In circuit court, the defendant, if proven to be insane, is simply locked away in the state mental hospital until he becomes sane, at which time he is tried.

"This is a major flaw in the decision," Hall said. "When a person is incompetent they go to the State Hospital. When competency is gained, they are retried."

But, she said, "When a person is adjudicated insane, they are sent to a State Hospital. When they are found sane they are released and don't go back to trial, that would be double jeopardy."

In 1999, in the aftermath of the Jonesboro shootings, the Legislature approved a bill that instituted blended sentences into the state's juvenile code. Under the new law, a delinquent youth could spend part of his sentence in the state Youth Services Division and then transfer at an older age to the Department of Correction if shown to be insufficiently rehabilitated at the end of his time in the youth division's facilities.

Because the law was not in effect at the time of the shootings in Jonesboro, Golden and Johnson can both be released when they turn 21.

In 1998, Golden, then 11, and Johnson, then 13, were found to be delinquent in a juvenile-court proceeding in the March 24, 1998, shootings. Johnson admitted to the killings.

Golden's attorney didn't deny that his client participated in the shootings, but tried unsuccessfully to argue that his client was incompetent and then that his client was insane.

A juvenile court judge denied both arguments, saying that state law doesn't allow youthful offenders to use those defenses.

Copyright © 2007, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved.

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