The Arkansas Supreme Court today reversed the death penalty given Kenneth Reams by a Jefferson County jury in the 1993 shooting death of Gary Turner during a robbery at an ATM machine. The court said Reams had ineffective counsel during the penalty phase of the trial. It also said he should be able to make an argument in the lower court that his attorney had failed to challenge jury selection of mostly white jurors from a mostly white jury po

The decision was 5-2, with Justices Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack dissenting. Justice Jo Hart concurred with the majority on the finding in the penalty phase, but not with the finding that Reams should be able to argue that his guilty verdict could be challenged over the jury issue. (My original post on this case misread the ruling and didn’t include the finding about the jury challenge.)


A co-defendant in the case, Alford Goodwin, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison before Reams went to trial. Reams’ attorney failed to get Goodwin’s testimony in support of Reams’ defense that Goodwin shot Turner, not Reams.

From the opinion:


Throughout the trial, trial counsel’s theory was that Goodwin had shot and killed Turner. Despite this defense theory, trial counsel testified at the Rule 37 hearing that he could not talk to Goodwin because Goodwin was represented by counsel. Trial counsel testified that he did not recall whether he had approached counsel for Goodwin but that he did not have a good working relationship with Goodwin’s counsel. Trial counsel further testified that “[he didn’t] know when [Goodwin] pled in relation to [Reams’s] trial.”

Based on the above testimony and in light of the defense’s theory that Goodwin shot Turner, there is no strategic reason not to at least investigate and attempt to present Goodwin at trial to corroborate Reams’s defense that he was not the shooter. Accordingly, we hold that trial counsel’s failure to at least attempt to present Goodwin’s testimony during the penalty phase of trial constitutes deficient performance. 

The court said the lower court had erred by saying had to prove he was prejudiced by having a jury that didn’t represent a cross-section of the community. It said  Reams’ counsel should have made the argument and he now should be given a chance to demonstrate if the cross-section claim was valid by a three-point test:

(1) that the group alleged to be excluded is a ‘distinctive’ group in the community; (2) that the representation of this group in venires from which juries are selected is not fair and reasonable in relation to the number of such persons in the community; and (3) that this underrepresentation is due to systematic exclusion of the group in the jury-selection process

The case was returned to Circuit Court for more proceedings. The full opinion is here.