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Arkansas inmate cites mental illness in death penalty appeal

by The Associated Press | January 9, 2020 at 2:59 p.m.
In this May 1999 file photo, Polk County Sheriff's officer and a member of the Mena Police Department lead Karl Roberts from the Polk County Detention Center to the Polk County Courthouse. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/KAREN E. SEGRAVE)

LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas death row inmate convicted of killing a state legislator's daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia and should not be executed, his attorney told the state Supreme Court Thursday.

Justices heard arguments over Karl Roberts' appeal of his conviction and death sentence in the 1999 killing of his 12-year-old niece, Andi Brewer. Brewer's mother, state Rep. Rebecca Petty, has served in the Arkansas House since 2015.

Arkansas doesn't have any executions scheduled and its supply of lethal injection drugs expired last year. The state has said it is not actively searching for lethal injection drugs.

An attorney for Roberts told justices that the inmate's schizophrenia hampered his defense in his 2000 trial because he believed that his jailers were secretly recording him.

"The real question is, because of that mental disease, can you effectively assist your counsel in the defense?" Scott Braden, a federal public defender representing Roberts, told the court. "And that's what we have here. Because of Mr. Roberts' mental disease, he was unable to assist his counsel."

The state noted that experts during Roberts' 2000 trial did not diagnose him with schizophrenia. The state also said Roberts' argument is not ready to be considered by the court because he has a separate case pending in federal court and because an execution date hasn't been set.

Roberts' attorneys have argued that a competency test administered to Roberts before his trial was incorrectly scored and administered.

Deputy Solicitor General Vincent Wagner told the court that Roberts' arguments don't change the fact that he confessed to Brewer's rape and murder.

"To distract from that plain fact, he takes a kitchen sink approach" to his appeal, Wagner said.

Justices did not indicate when they would rule.

A separate lawsuit challenging the use of one of Arkansas' lethal injection drugs is pending in federal court. The trial in that suit wrapped up last April, but a judge hasn't ruled.


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