LITTLE ROCK — A divided Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday said it would not order a new sentencing hearing for a man sentenced to die for fatally shooting a man in a Little Rock laundromat in a 1993 robbery.
In a 4-3 decision, the high court rejected arguments that the jury in Terrick Nooner’s capital-murder trial failed to consider mitigating evidence.
In oral arguments before the Supreme Court in February, an attorney for Nooner argued that when Nooner was tried in the March 16, 1993, slaying of Scot Stobaugh, 22, the jury indicated on a verdict form that there was no mitigating evidence in the case, even though the jury had heard testimony that Nooner was abused as a child and had been referred to a child psychiatric facility, among other things.
In the case Frank Williams v. State, the state Supreme Court 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, Nooner’s attorney argued.
In its majority opinion Thursday, the Supreme Court overruled its decision in the Williams case, saying it was in error.
An attorney for the attorney general’s office argued in February that in the case Steven Hill v. State, the Supreme Court established that a jury can be presented with mitigating evidence but mark on a verdict form that there was no mitigating evidence if the jury finds the evidence not credible. A majority of Supreme Court justices agreed Thursday.
“Here, the bulk of Nooner’s mitigating evidence came from his stepfather, Mr. Hendricks, who also provided alibi testimony for Nooner during the guilt phase,” Corbin wrote in the majority opinion. “Clearly, when the jury found Nooner guilty, they discounted Mr. Hendricks’ credibility, and it is therefore a reasonable possibility that the jury simply weighed Mr. Hendricks’ testimony in mitigation but rejected it as the jury was entitled to do under Hill.”
Justices Karen Baker, Courtney Goodson and Cliff Hoofman joined in the majority opinion.
Chief Justice Jim Hannah wrote in a dissenting opinion that he believed the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hill case was wrong and should be overruled. He said he would grant Nooner a new hearing.
“The manner in which the jury completed Form 2D demonstrates that the jury eliminated from its consideration all evidence presented of mitigating circumstances and sentenced Nooner to death based solely on aggravating circumstances,” Hannah wrote.
Justices Paul Danielson and Josephine Hart joined in the dissent.