ARKANSAS (USA): SUPREME COURT LIFTS DEATH SENTENCE FOR CONVICTED MURDERER
November 13, 2018:
The Arkansas Supreme Court on 8 November 2018 reversed the death penalty given Kenneth Reams by a Jefferson County jury in the 1993 shooting death of Gary Turner during a robbery at an ATM machine. (Source: arktimes.com, HoC, 08/11/2018)
The court said Reams had ineffective counsel during the penalty phase of the trial.
The decision was 5-2. Reams was sentenced to die on December 16, 1993 for the May 5, 1993 shooting death of Gary Turner. He and a friend, Alford Goodwin had waited for a target by an ATM machine.
A similar scheme had failed the previous week when an ATM user floored the gas before Goodwin and Reams could get to him. This time the pair, with a .32 pistol, were determined to get what they wanted.
Goodwin, who handled the weapon, demanded cash from the driver, Gary Turner. Turner resisted and was murdered. Goodwin got life without parole in a plea deal before Reams went to trial. Reams' attorney failed to get Goodwin's testimony in support of Reams' defense that Goodwin shot Turner, not Reams. In fact, Goodwin never admitted that he was the shooter during Reams' trial, allowing prosecutors to pose the uncertainty of the gunman's identity. Testifying for himself, Reams was the only witness at trial who could say he didn't shoot Gary Turner. In fact, he was the only witness for the defense at all during the verdict phase.
Today the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's finding in the appeal by Reams for post-conviction relief. From the opinion: “Throughout the trial, trial counsel’s theory was that Goodwin had shot and killed Turner.
Despite this defense theory, trial counsel testified at the Rule 37 hearing that he could not talk to Goodwin because Goodwin was represented by counsel. Trial counsel testified that he did not recall whether he had approached counsel for Goodwin but that he did not have a good working relationship with Goodwin’s counsel. Trial counsel further testified that “[he didn’t] know when [Goodwin] pled in relation to Reams’s trial.” Based on the above testimony and in light of the defense’s theory that Goodwin shot Turner, there is no strategic reason not to at least investigate and attempt to present Goodwin at trial to corroborate Reams’s defense that he was not the shooter. Accordingly, we hold that trial counsel’s failure to at least attempt to present Goodwin’s testimony during the penalty phase of trial constitutes deficient performance.
The case was returned to Circuit Court for a new determination of penalty.