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McArthur v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

September 11, 2014



Steven Laron McArthur, Pro se, petitioner.

Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Kent G. Holt, Ass't Att'y Gen., for respondent.


Page 682



In 1991, petitioner Steven Laron McArthur was found guilty by a jury of capital murder in the death of Rodney Spence in 1990. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. We affirmed. McArthur v. State, 309 Ark. 196, 830 S.W.2d 842 (1992).

Petitioner has now filed a pro se petition in this court requesting that jurisdiction be reinvested in the trial court so that he may proceed with a petition for writ of error coram nobis. A petition for leave to proceed in the trial court is necessary because the trial court can entertain a petition for writ of error coram nobis after a judgment has been affirmed on appeal only after we grant permission. Hooper v. State, 2014 Ark. 16 (per curiam).

A writ of error coram nobis is an extraordinarily rare remedy, more known for its denial than its approval. Cromeans v. State, 2013 Ark. 273 (per curiam). The writ is allowed only under compelling circumstances to achieve justice and to address errors of the most fundamental nature. McDaniels v. State, 2012 Ark. 465 (per curiam). We have held that a writ of error coram nobis is available to address certain errors that are found in one of four categories: insanity at the time of trial, a coerced guilty plea, material evidence withheld by the prosecutor, or a third-party confession to the crime during the time between conviction and appeal. Charland v. State, 2013 Ark. 452 (per curiam); Pitts v. State, 336 Ark. 580,

Page 683

986 S.W.2d 407 (1999) (per curiam). The function of the writ is to secure relief from a judgment rendered while there existed some fact that would have prevented its rendition if it had been known to the circuit court and which, through no negligence or fault of the defendant, was not brought forward before rendition of judgment. McFerrin v. State, 2012 Ark. 305 (per curiam); Cloird v. State, 2011 Ark. 303 (per curiam). The petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a fundamental error of fact extrinsic to the record. Wright v. State, 2014 Ark. 25 (per curiam); Williams v. State, 2011 Ark. 541 (per curiam). Coram-nobis proceedings are attended by a strong presumption that the judgment of conviction is valid. Roberts v. State, 2013 Ark. 56, 425 S.W.3d 771; Penn v. State, 282 Ark. 571, 670 S.W.2d 426 (1984) (citing Troglin v. State, 257 Ark. 644, 519 S.W.2d 740 (1975)).

In his petition, petitioner raises three grounds for the writ. To understand the claims, a brief summary of the facts of the case is necessary. On January 21, 1990, a hunter discovered the body of sixteen-year-old Rodney Spence in Lonoke County. Spence had been shot twice in the head at close range. Spence's father testified at petitioner's trial that, on the afternoon of January 20, 1990, Spence had left his parents' home with the understanding that he would be home by 10:00 p.m. that night. Spence was driving a 1986 red Ford Ranger. Spence's uncle testified that he saw Spence later that evening, and Spence said he was going to Cabot, Arkansas. When Spence did not return home by 10:30, his parents reported him missing. His body was discovered the next day.

On January 23, 1990, a patrolman with the Plano Texas Police Department pulled over a red Ford Ranger with Arkansas plates after hearing a national broadcast to be on the lookout for the vehicle. Donald Hawley, the driver of the truck, informed the Texas authorities that he and petitioner had been in Cabot, Arkansas, the past weekend and stayed at petitioner's girfriend's apartment. Hawley stated that petitioner had left the apartment for a while on Saturday, and, when petitioner returned, he was driving the red truck, which Hawley and petitioner drove to Texas. The Plano police executed a search warrant on petitioner's sister's apartment where they found a gun in a nightstand drawer. At trial, the parties stipulated that the gun was the weapon that had been used to shoot Spence.

Donald Hawley eventually pled guilty to capital murder and testified at petitioner's trial. Hawley testified that petitioner had approached Spence in the parking lot of a grocery store in Cabot. According to Hawley, he and petitioner arranged for Spence to give them a ride to a liquor store and Spence drove them to two liquor stores and a convenience store. When Spence went inside the convenience store, petitioner informed Hawley that he was going to ask Spence to drive them to a friend's house and instructed Hawley to act sick when petitioner prompted him to do so. Petitioner then directed Spence to drive to a remote location whereupon petitioner told Hawley to feign sickness. When Spence stopped the truck, petitioner and Hawley got out of the truck on the passenger side. Spence also got out of the truck, and petitioner asked Spence for assistance in getting Hawley back into the truck. Hawley then stepped around to the rear of the truck, aimed a gun at Spence, and ...

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