DENNIS J. VENTRESS, PETITIONER
STATE OF ARKANSAS, RESPONDENT
JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, NO. 35CR-89-76.
DENNIS VENTRESS, ATTORNEY GENERAL.
PRO SE PETITION TO REINVEST JURISDICTION IN THE TRIAL COURT TO CONSIDER A PETITION FOR WRIT OF ERROR CORAM NOBIS
In 1989, petitioner Dennis J. Ventress was found guilty by a jury of capital felony murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. We affirmed. Ventress v. State, 303 Ark. 194, 794 S.W.2d 619 (1990). Petitioner subsequently proceeded in the trial court with a petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.4 (1989). The petition was denied, and this court affirmed the order. Ventress v. State, CR-97-870, (Ark. Oct. 22, 1998) (unpublished per curiam).
On February 19, 2015, petitioner filed in this court the pro se petition that is now before us seeking leave to proceed in the trial court with a petition for writ of error coram nobis. After a judgment has
been affirmed on appeal, a petition filed in this court for leave to proceed in the trial court is necessary because the circuit court can entertain a petition for writ of error coram nobis only after we grant permission. Dansby v. State, 343 Ark. 635, 37 S.W.3d 599 (2001) (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) (citing Pitts v. State, 336 Ark. 580, 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. Chestang v. State, 2014 Ark. 477 (per curiam); McFerrin v. State, 2012 Ark. 305 (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). 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.
In his petition, petitioner contends that the prosecution at his trial withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). The Brady claim pertains to statements alleged to have been given to authorities by Ronnie Goolsby and the information that Goolsby was offered a " sweetheart deal" in exchange for testifying against petitioner.
Petitioner and Ronnie Goolsby were jointly charged with the capital murder of a man in Jefferson County. Goolsby's case was severed, and he entered a plea of guilty to the lesser-included offense of first-degree murder. At petitioner's subsequent trial, there was no dispute that the victim had been murdered; the only issue was the manner and extent of petitioner's involvement. The testimony given to the jury set out two versions of petitioner's part in the offense.
The first version was contained in petitioner's confession in which petitioner stated that he and Goolsby planned to rob the victim and Goolsby said, " I don't leave no witnesses." Petitioner and Goolsby went to the victim's home where Goolsby went inside while petitioner watched from outside. Goolsby beat the victim to death and then let petitioner in the house where petitioner took the victim's wallet and money.
The second version was given by petitioner in his testimony at trial. He testified that he gave his initial confession only because he wanted to give the police a " lead" on Goolsby and, " I didn't know I was jeopardizing myself that much." He further testified that the correct story was that he knew that the victim was a homosexual who would pay to have sexual activity ...