A mental examination has been ordered for former death row inmate Rickey Dale Newman.
Judge Gary R. Cottrell signed the order Wednesday and it was filed Thursday in Crawford County Circuit Court.
Special prosecutor Ron Fields filed a motion Oct. 10 for an independent examination to determine if Newman is fit for trial.
Newman, 56, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die at the end of a one-day trial in Crawford County Circuit Court on June 10, 2002, for the 2001 murder of Marie Cholette, 46, at a Van Buren homeless camp. Newman represented himself, confessed to the crime and asked jurors to sentence him to death.
Earlier, Cottrell continued Newman’s trial until April 6 at the request of Fields, who was appointed by Cottrell Aug. 27 after 21st Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Marc McCune disqualified himself. McCune said it was best he and his staff step away to avoid possibly tainting the case and creating issues Newman could use on appeal.
Newman’s court-appointed attorney Julie Brain of Philadelphia, Pa., filed a motion in June to appoint a special prosecutor to handle Newman’s prosecution. Brain cited McCune as a potential witness because he sat in on a May 9, 2002, interview with Newman during which Newman gave details about how he killed Cholette and asked McCune to promise he would seek the death penalty for Newman.
Cottrell’s order states Newman shall undergo an examination by one or more qualified psychiatrists not practicing with the Arkansas State Hospital at a location to be determined by the examiner. The exam should not last more than 60 days, the order states.
If the examination cannot be conducted because of Newman’s unwillingness to participate, the report should include, if possible, "an opinion as to whether the unwillingness of the defendant is the result of mental disease or defect."
In his motion for a mental exam, Fields cites a Sept. 17 letter from Newman to Cottrell which requests the "death penalty be put back on the table."
The special prosecutor also states the letter contains references to death that the defense previously argued in appellate courts was indicative of unfitness to proceed.
"The defendant states in the letter that he was acting without the knowledge of counsel, a fact that appears to indicate that he does not understand the attorney-client relationship and cannot conform his behavior to assist counsel in his own behalf this time," Fields’ motion states.
Newman’s letter to Cottrell states he wants a jury trial with the death penalty since evidence will show he is not guilty of killing anyone.
The defense attorney for Newman claimed the state was not entitled to a second mental examination.
"There is no substantial reason to doubt Mr. Newman’s fitness to proceed at this time and thus there is no justification for any further evaluation," wrote Brain in a motion filed Oct. 17 in Crawford County Circuit Court.
Brain claims the state should not get a second exam simply because it is displeased with the first.
After his 2002 circuit court trial, the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed Newman’s capital murder conviction and death sentence. The court granted Newman’s request to waive further appeals and to be executed.
But in 2005, Newman allowed Brain to file a motion in federal court in Fort Smith to stay his execution. On Jan. 16, 2014, the state Supreme Court ruled Newman was incompetent to stand trial when he was convicted in 2002 and ordered a new trial.
In April, Cottrell was notified by Mark Peacock, director of the state hospital postdoctoral fellowship in forensic psychology, that Newman’s unwillingness to cooperate with an examination to assess his current mental state or fitness to stand trial — at the direction of Brain — makes any ongoing effort to forcibly treat or "restore" his fitness to stand trial potentially "unsafe" and doesn’t serve the best interest of the state hospital or Newman.
In a May 15 letter, Billy Burris, forensic services program coordinator at the state hospital, notified Cottrell that Newman exhibited no signs or symptoms of a major mental illness during his stay at the hospital and does not require continued hospitalization.