Court rejects death row inmate's mental illness claim

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the appeal of a death row inmate who argued that he shouldn't be executed because he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

In a 6-1 decision, the justices upheld a lower court's ruling against Karl Roberts, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1999 killing of his 12-year-old niece, Andi Brewer. Brewer’s mother, Republican state Rep. Rebecca Petty, has served in the Arkansas House since 2015.

Arkansas doesn’t have any executions scheduled and its supply of lethal injection drugs expired last year. The state has said it is not actively searching for lethal injection drugs.

“Karl Roberts brutally raped and murdered 12-year-old Andria Brewer more than twenty years ago,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement. “Today’s decision brings us one step closer to justice for Andi and her family.”

Roberts' attorney had argued that the inmate’s schizophrenia hampered his defense during his 2000 trial because he believed that his jailers were secretly recording him.

The court, however, said that there is no categorical prohibition on sentencing a person with schizophrenia to death. It also said his claim of incompetency wasn't ready to be adjudicated since no execution date had been set.

Scott Braden, a federal public defender representing Roberts, said he was disappointed by the ruling and planned to ask to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

“We're going to continue to pursue that,” Braden said.

The state noted that experts during Roberts’ 2000 trial did not diagnose him with schizophrenia. Roberts’ attorneys have argued that a competency test administered to Roberts before his trial was incorrectly scored and administered.

The sole dissenting justice agreed with Roberts' attorney and said there was no other evidence pointing to Roberts' competency.

“All the evidence—including detailed testimony by forensic experts, illustrative accounts from Roberts’s family and acquaintances about his life, and the difficulties explained by Roberts’s trial attorneys themselves — supports that Roberts suffered a psychotic break and was unable to assist his trial attorneys in his defense,” Justice Jo Hart wrote.

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