LITTLE ROCK — A man sentenced to die for fatally shooting a man in a Little Rock laundromat should get a new sentencing hearing because the jury for his capital murder trial may not have considered mitigating evidence, an attorney argued Thursday before the state Supreme Court.
An attorney for the state argued that the jury satisfied the requirements of the law and that certain cases cited in support of the appeal should be overturned.
The court heard oral arguments but did not immediately issue a ruling in Terrick Nooner’s appeal of his death sentence in the March 16, 1993, slaying of Scot Stobaugh, 22, during a robbery. Josh Lee, attorney for the now 42-year-old Nooner, argued that the jury indicated on a verdict form that there was no mitigating evidence in the case, yet the jury had heard evidence that Nooner had been abused as a child and had been referred to a child psychiatric facility, among other things.
Lee said that in the appeals Frank Williams v. State and Justin Anderson v. State, the Supreme Court has established that a jury errs when its mark a verdict form in a way that indicates it entirely failed to consider evidence offered in mitigation, Lee argued.
Justice Cliff Hoofman asked Lee if it was possible that jurors considered the mitigating evidence and rejected it. Lee said the jury had an option to indicate on the form that it gave little weight to the mitigating evidence, but it did not choose that option, so it is impossible to know whether the jury considered the evidence at all.
"The uncertainty about what it means favors the defendant, not the state," he said.
Assistant Attorney General Kelly Fields argued that in the appeal Darrel Hill v. State, the Supreme Court rejected Hill’s argument that because the jury indicated on a verdict form that there was no mitigating evidence, it therefore had not considered evidence that was presented. She said the high court ruled in that case that although a witness presented evidence for purposes of mitigation, the jury did not have to consider the evidence credible.
To the extent that the Williams and Anderson rulings conflict with Hill, they should be overturned, Fields argued. She said the court needs to clear up confusion on the issue because jurors need guidance.
"They need to know what the rules are," she said.
The court did not indicate when it would rule.