An attempt to reverse the suppression of statements by a man accused of killing a transient in Crawford County in 2001 has been dismissed by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
In an opinion dated Sept. 21, Associate Justice Shawn A. Womack denied the appeal by Appointed Prosecutor Ron Fields in the Crawford County Circuit Court murder trial of Rickey Dale Newman.
Newman, also a former transient, was convicted and sentenced to death in June 2002 in the February 2001 slaying of Marie Cholette, 46, in a “hobo park.” In January 2014, the state Supreme Court overturned his conviction, finding that he was incompetent at the time of his trial, and ordered a new trial.
Womack wrote the Crawford County Circuit Court made an evidentiary decision after considering the particular facts of the case.
“The state’s arguments regarding that ruling are based on the application and not interpretation of our criminal rules,” he wrote. “This is therefore not a proper state appeal.”
Fields had sought to reverse the suppression of statements made March 1 and March 7, 2001. He argued the circuit court erred because it did not consider the “totality of the circumstances and only considered the mental incompetency when making the ruling.”
The Sept. 21 Supreme Court opinion states that during a March 2 interrogation Newman revealed to the interrogating officers that he suffered from numerous mental illnesses and was receiving treatment and taking medication to address the deficiencies.
“The officers continued their interrogation and after questioning from the officers, Newman eventually made oral and written statements confessing to the murder of Marie Cholette,” the opinion states. “In his motion to suppress the statements, Newman argued that the officers unlawfully exploited his mental condition to obtain the confession.”
Womack’s opinion states the circuit court conducted three evidentiary hearings regarding Newman’s competency where it took testimony from three medical experts regarding Newman’s mental incompetency.
The court made an oral ruling Jan. 23 that the statements from March 1 and 7 would be suppressed based on the case law and evidence that had been presented, Womack’s opinion points out.
The state’s appeal stated the circuit court improperly interpreted case law and not its application to the facts because it made its ruling based on Newman’s mental incompetency and not the totality of the circumstances.
However, Womack stated, “The circuit court made an evidentiary decision after considering the particular facts of the case, and the state’s arguments regarding that ruling are based on the application and not interpretation of our criminal rules.”
According to a Sept. 21 letter from Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Gary R. Cottrell, Fields has 10 days to notify the court if he plans to proceed with the prosecution of Newman.
For the second time, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in May that Newman has not been denied his right to a speedy trial. The Supreme Court rejected Newman’s petition in a one-page order without comment.
In February 2014, Cottrell suspended proceedings in the case and committed Newman to the Arkansas State Hospital until he could be evaluated and found competent to stand trial. Cottrell ruled in November 2015 that a new evaluation of Newman showed he was competent to stand trial.
In a petition filed earlier this year, Newman’s attorneys argued that after the issuance of the November 2015 ruling that Newman was competent, a year elapsed without a retrial, so the state had violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial.
In a previous petition filed in May 2016, Newman’s attorneys argued that the state violated the speedy-trial rule by allowing more than a year to pass between Newman’s committal and the finding that he was competent. The Supreme Court rejected that petition in December, finding that the delay was attributable to Newman’s refusal to submit to evaluation and therefore was not the fault of the state.
In response to Newman’s second petition arguing that the speedy-trial rule was violated, attorneys for the state argued that the filing of Newman’s May 2016 petition delayed his retrial. The period of time between the filing of that petition and the Supreme Court’s December ruling should not count in determining whether the speedy-trial rule had been violated because the delay was not the state’s fault, the state argued.