FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. CK-2012-1189]
HONORABLE J. MICHAEL FITZHUGH, JUDGE
L. Dunagin, for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Valerie Glover Fortner, for
K. WOOD, Associate Justice
appeal returns to us after we remanded for the circuit court
to hold a hearing on two of Robert Sandrelli's claims for
ineffective assistance of counsel. After holding the hearing,
the court denied relief on both grounds. We affirm the
circuit court's judgment.
Sandrelli was charged with four counts of rape. The victim
was Sandrelli's fourteen-year-old son. A jury trial was
held in August 2013. This first trial resulted in a hung
jury, and the circuit court declared a mistrial. A second
trial was held a month later, which resulted in Sandrelli
being convicted on all four counts. Our court of appeals
affirmed the conviction in Sandrelli v. State, 2015
direct review, Sandrelli filed a petition for postconviction
relief under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1.
Sandrelli propounded three claims of ineffective assistance
of counsel that he alleged occurred at his second trial: (1)
defense counsel was under emotional and professional stress;
(2) defense counsel failed to call any character witnesses;
and (3) defense counsel unilaterally decided that Sandrelli
would not testify. The circuit court denied Sandrelli's
petition without holding a hearing. Sandrclli appealed to
this court, arguing that he was entitled to a hearing on his
affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part. See
Sandreili v. State, 2016 Ark. 103, 485 S.W.3d 692. We
held that Sandrelli's first claim was conciusory;
therefore, he was not entitled to a hearing on it. But we
remanded for a hearing on the last two claims. Because the
circuit court apparently struggled to understand why this
court was remanding the matter and did not understand the
concept of a "control-case, " we once again
explain. This is similar to control-groups in scientific
experiments. Here, two different trials took place, with two
different outcomes. The first trial resulted in a hung jury
and the second trial resulted in a conviction.
Sandrelli's petition for postconviction relief claimed
that the only fact distinguishing the two trials was the lack
of defense witnesses at the second trial. The circuit court,
based on the record alone, found that counsel and Sandrclli
"must have agreed no witnesses would be called."
This was speculative. We held that the circuit court could
not conclusively determine, without sonic evidence, that
counsel's decisions were supported by reasonable
professional judgment. The circuit court should not guess the
reasons behind the trial counsel's decisions; rather, the
court should establish those reasons based on evidence
presented at a hearing.
remand, the circuit court held a hearing on these two claims.
Sandrclli testified at the hearing. He stated that he
testified in the first trial and intended to testify again at
the second trial. Yet he claimed that his attorney, Ray
Spruell, never asked him to make a decision whether to
testify. Rather, Spruell informed him, after the first day of
trial, that he would not be testifying. Sandrelli also stated
that Spruell never discussed with hirn his decision to call
no character witnesses at the second trial.
testified as well. He stated that while the first trial ended
in a hung jury, the vote was 11-1 in favor of conviction.
Spruell thought the character witnesses who testified in the
first trial played an insignificant role in the jury's
decision: "The bottom line is I never felt that
character witnesses were the key to why we got a hung jury
the first time around." For instance, Spruell noted that
one witness, Betty Turner, was nervous on the stand and
agreed on cross examination that she "assumed that if
something was going on [the victim] would keep quiet and
wouldn't say anything about it." Spruell also noted
that the witnesses appeared to be surprised when they were
confronted with Sandrclli's earlier conviction for
domestic battery against his son.
testified that the best character witness, Woodrow Star, told
him between the first and second trials that he would no
longer be a good character witness for Sandrelli. According
to Spruell, Star told him that Sandrelli had displayed
behavior that would cause Star to change his testimony about
Sandrclli's truthfulness. Star testified as well, but he
denied that this interaction ever took place.
Spruell stated that he told Sandrelli that the decision
whether to testify rested with Sandrelli. Spruell asserted
that he recommended that Sandrelli not testify: "I knew
that Mr. Sandrelli didn't like to testify in the first
[trial]. So, I explained to him that it was going to be rough
on him the second time around and I didn't think he would
look good up there." Spruell stated that Sandrelli
agreed that he should not testify. One particular concern
Spruell had was Sandrelli's testimony during the first
trial. When questioned about his domestic-battery charge
against his son, Sandrelli initially maintained that it was a
football injury. Yet when pressed by the prosecution,
Sandrclli admitted that the he had thrown his son across the
room. This spontaneous admission contradicted a
video-recorded interview that was admitted during the second
trial, wherein Sandrclli "adamantly" denied to the
police that he had ever thrown his son. Spruell was concerned
how the inconsistencies would affect Sandrclli on cross.
circuit court issued a written order denying Sandrclli's
petition. The court found that counsel's decision to call
no witnesses in the second trial "was a sound
professional judgment by an experienced advocate and that it
was reasonable." The court further found that "not
only was counsel's advice [whether to testify] a matter
of professional judgment of a very experienced attorney, but
the decision was made by the Defendant." Finally, the
court noted that Sandrelli's testimony was
"self-serving, inconsistent, and totally unreasonable
and not believable."
not reverse the grant, or denial of postconviction relief
unless the circuit court's findings are clearly
erroneous. Lemaster v. State,2015 Ark. 167, 459
S.W.3d 802. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although
there is evidence to support it, the appellate court, after
reviewing the entire evidence, ...