Defense attorneys will have until after the first of next year to prepare for murder trials that have already been postponed for over a year.
All four men suspected of the murder of an Agnos man were granted continuances July 7 by 16th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Tim Weaver.
Weaver set aside a special pre-trial date of Nov. 7 for accused capital murderer Bryan Shankle who is represented by Attorney Larry Kissee.
Weaver granted a motion for Shankle's trial to be continued until the January jury session. Kissee said Weaver hasn't scheduled an exact date but three weeks will be set aside for the trial.
Kissee filed a motion requesting payment of 176 hours of legal services from his time of appointment to July 3.
He said he has accumulated over 273 hours of paralegal expenses at a rate of $15 an hour. The use of paralegals helped saved the Public Defender's Commission at least $75 per hour for legal work and $25 an hour for investigative work, Kissee maintains.
Weaver approved the payment of attorney fees and expenses.
The judge also granted a motion to hire independent forensic experts, allowing Kissee to spend up to $5,000.
Weaver said he approved the request because the case is a capital murder case and the state has not waived the death penalty. Another factor is that examiners at the Arkansas State Mental Hospital have determined Shankle to be mildly mentally retarded.
Kissee said mental disease or defect and mental retardation will be issues at the trial.
Kissee has consulted with Dr. Daniel Grant, of Richmond Hills, Ga., a licensed psychologist, board certified neuropsychologist and board certified forensic examiner.
Gathering and reviewing Department of Human Services records has been time consuming, Kissee said. He said, "This young man (Shankle) has been institutionalized somewhere in the system since he was 9 years old." Kissee said he had to get permission to unseal his client's juvenile records. His assistants have had to travel to various DHS offices to copy records, he added.
A suppression hearing is also slated for Nov. 7 for his client, Kissee added.
16th Judicial District Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Dwayne Plumlee said the murder trial for accused capital murderer Bobby Woodrum was also continued until March 2004.
Woodrum had agreed to a negotiated plea at his pre-trial hearing May 13 to two life sentences with no chance of parole but the state withdrew the plea June 26 after he escaped from jail May 19.
Kissee said, "I'm definitely going to try to subpoena (Woodrum) him." He said Woodrum is supposed to testify on Shankle's behalf.
Murder trials have been postponed until after Shankle's trial for two additional suspects, Timothy Est and Jesse Petty, each charged with first-degree murder, said Plumlee. No specific dates have been scheduled, Plumlee added.
Charges were dismissed for a fifth suspect in the case, Billy Jack Wilson, after he agreed to testify on the state's behalf.
The four men are charged with the murder of Russell "Joe" Fisk in June of last year. A family member found Fisk dead in his home in rural Fulton County with a belt wrapped around his neck.
The forensic report said the victim's death was a result of a broken neck, broken back and head trauma which included something being inserted into the victim's brain and twisted in a circulator motion.
Woodrum and Shankle escaped from the Fulton County jail March 23. They were apprehended in Missouri, then transported to Independence County jail.
The two prisoners escaped a second time from Independence County jail May 19 after overpowering a prison guard. Both were caught eight days after their escape in Independence County.