17 October 2017 :
Rickey Dale Newman, a former death row inmate, was freed after 16 years in custody. After more than 16 years in custody, including as many as 12 on death row, Newman, 59, White, walked out of the Crawford County jail Wednesday a free man.
Newman became the 160th person since 1973 to be exonerated after having having been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. Newman, a former Marine with major depression, chronic posttraumatic stress disorder from childhood abuse, and an IQ in the intellectually disabled range, was seriously mentally ill and homeless at the time he was charged with murdering Marie Cholette. He was convicted and sentenced to death in June 2002 after a one-day trial in which the court permitted him to represent himself.
No physical evidence linked Newman to the murder, but at trial a prosecution expert falsely testified that hair found on Newman's clothing came from the victim. Newman also told the jury he had committed the murder and asked them to impose the death penalty. He subsequently sought to waive his appeals and be executed. However, four days before his scheduled execution on July 26, 2005, Newman permitted federal public defenders, including his current counsel, Julie Brain, to seek a stay of execution. DNA evidence on the blanket on which the victim was found excluded Newman, and the federal defenders obtained DNA testing of the hair evidence that disproved the prosecution's trial testimony. They also discovered that prosecutors had withheld from the defense evidence from the murder scene that contradicted what Newman had described in his confession.
A federal court hearing disclosed that the state mental health doctor had made significant errors in administering and scoring tests he had relied upon for his testimony that Newman had been competent to stand trial. Crawford County Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell signed an order approving a motion by special prosecutor Ron Fields to dismiss the 1st-degree murder charge against Newman in the Feb. 7, 2001, mutilation slaying of Marie Cholette, 46. In a letter dated Tuesday to Cottrell explaining his reasons for requesting dismissal of the charge, Fields wrote that the Sept. 21 opinion by the Arkansas Supreme Court barred the state from introducing at Newman's retrial confessions he made to police after his arrest in 2001. The state had presented Newman's confession to a jury during his 1-day capital-murder trial June 10, 2002. Also during the trial, Newman, acting as his own attorney, told jurors he killed Cholette and wanted to be sentenced to death. According to court records, Newman testified before the jury that he killed Cholette because she falsely represented herself as a member of a transient rail riding group he called the FTRA and had hurt one of its members during an altercation. The jury convicted Newman and, on the basis of the jury's recommendation, Circuit Judge Floyd "Pete" Rogers sentenced him to death. In January 2014, the Arkansas Supreme Court threw out his conviction and death sentence, ruling that Newman suffered from mental disease and defects.
The court ordered Newman back to Crawford County, where he was to be rendered competent and retried.
It was that 2014 ruling that Cottrell relied on in January to bar Fields from using Newman's confession in his retrial. Fields appealed Cottrell's decision to the state Supreme Court, and it denied the appeal in the Sept. 21 opinion. According to the records, Cholette's sexual organs and anus had been severely mutilated and her nipples were cut off. Foreign material had been placed inside her pelvic area. Her jawbone was broken, and her dental plate was lodged in her throat. Her throat was cut, and there were several stab wounds in her chest.
Newman was the last person to be seen with Cholette. Police had recovered video from a liquor store that showed Newman and Cholette together on Feb. 7, 2001. Today Crawford County Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell signed an order approving a motion by special prosecutor Ron Fields to dismiss the first-degree murder charge against Newman.