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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Avoiding the death penalty

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Woodrum may testify on Shankle's behalf in exchange for life sentences

As the murder trial draws closer for accused murder suspect Brian Shankle, defense attorneys Larry Kissee and Brad Sipe hopes to convince the state their client is mildly retarded so the state will waive the death penalty. But Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Dwayne Plumlee isn't buying it.

Two of the four murder suspects, Shankle, 19, and Bobby Woodrum, 19, appeared at the pretrial hearing May 13.

Woodrum was ready to enter a guilty plea at the pretrial hearing May 13 and accept two life sentences with no chance of parole to avoid the death penalty. But the state did not want him to enter his plea until after Shankle's trial set for June 3. Woodrum's plea hearing has been set for June 26. "It's really kind of bittersweet, said Woodrum's Defense Attorney William James Jr. of Little Rock. You hate to agree to a life sentence, but under the circumstances and the number of cases, this seemed to be the best avenue to take in order to avoid any possibility of a death sentence," James said the Woodrum's plea was not entered because he will testify at Shankle's trial.

Kissee filed a motion prohibiting the state from seeking the death penalty following his client's mental evaluation in February.

The murder trial is set for trial June 3 but a motion for continuance was filed which said Shankle has several motions pending which are of paramount importance to his case.

Circuit Court Judge John Dan Kemp granted Kissee's request for an expert clinical psychologist to assist with the defense. Kemp further ruled the expenses would be incurred by the Arkansas Public Defender's Commission.

A hearing has been set June 2 to rule on the issue of Shankle's mental retardation. Kissee said he needs additional time to prepare for his case because he has been having problems gathering records from the Department of Human Services. The judge said the court will reserve ruling on the motion for continuance until Kissee reports back to the court as to his progress reviewing Shankle's records. "I've got a man's life at stake," Kissee said.

The motion said Shankle has been committed to institutions since the age of 7. Additional records are needed to aid in Shankle's defense, Kissee said. Both attorneys claim the motion for continuance is not for delay but is necessary to investigate and pursue issues concerning the death penalty.

Between April 23 and May 6 Kissee filed additional motions to suppress statements to suppress evidence and to compel the state to conduct the trial of co-defendant (Woodrum) prior to Shankle's trial. Kissee also filed a motion for bill of particulars, a second motion to suppress evidence and a motion to release records.

The defense claims that when Shankle was taken into custody he was interrogated by Sgt. Tommy Cleveland of the Arkansas State Police. The interrogation lasted for about an hour, according to the motion to suppress statements. During the interrogation Shankle made an incriminating statement, Kissee said. The interrogation followed a warrantless and illegal arrest because the police did not have probable cause to arrest Shankle; therefore any statements made by Shankle should be declared inadmissible, Kissee said.

The defense further claims it was over 48 hours before their client appeared before a judge, which violated the Arkansas rules of criminal procedure. The motion said the statement given by Shankle was involuntary because he was intoxicated on alcohol and drugs during the interrogation.

In a brief attached to the motion Kissee said when the police questioned Shankle he requested a lawyer but the police refused to honor the request and continued to question him, which resulted in the defendant making an incriminating statement.

During the suspect's arrest June 27 at Boggy Landing in Elizabeth the Arkansas State Police SWAT Team raided Shankle's tent, seizing evidence. Kissee said the search was made without a warrant, so the evidence seized was not subject to the seizure.

In an earlier statement issued by Kissee he claimed Shankle's main defense is that he was not the person who delivered the death blow. He said his youth would be a mitigating factor.

In response the state filed a motion objecting to a continuance. A second motion in response to the motion to determine mental retardation said Shankle's defense has the burden of proving mental retardation at the time the offense was committed. But the definition of mental retardation encompasses more than an IQ score, Plumlee maintains.

Plumlee said at the time of Shankle's mental evaluation examiners determined he had the capacity to understand proceedings taken against him and that he was able to assist effectively in his own defense.

In response to the defense's request for a second mental evaluation Plumlee said the state is not required to furnish funds for Shankle to shop from doctor to doctor until he finds one who considers him mentally incompetent.

In a third motion Plumlee said the Supreme Court made it clear the indigent defendant does not have a constitutional right to choose a psychiatrist of his personal liking or receive funds to hire his own.

Charges were dropped against a fifth murder suspect, Billy Jack Wilson, who agreed to testify on the state's behalf.

The four suspects were charged in connection with the June 23, 2002, murder of Russell "Joe" Fisk. Fisk was found dead in his Agnos home with a belt wrapped around his neck.

Only two of the four suspects remain in custody. Est and Petty, both charged with murder in the first degree, were released after posting bond. Est and Petty's pretrial hearing has been scheduled for July 7 with a trial date of July 8.

Shankle and Woodrum, both charged with capital murder, are currently being held in Independence County Detention Center since their escape from the Fulton County jail March 23. The pair handcuffed a jailer to a chair, stole her Jeep Cherokee and went to Missouri in an attempt to elude authorities.

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