The Arkansas Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision to deny post-conviction relief to a man convicted of first-degree murder has interesting aspects.
Emmitt Riley, convicted in Drew County, was 59 when he shot Josh Martin, 26, during a fight. Riley shot Martin after Martin had already broken his ankle. He shot him once, despite having plenty of ammo, and called the police. Riley contended he acted in self-defense. He contended the court had failed to instruct the jury on a lesser charge of second-degree murder. A lower court rejected that claim.
In an opinion written by Justice Barbara Webb, Justices Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack and Chief Justice Dan Kemp also rebuffed Riley. They ruled in favor of the attorney general’s defense of the outcome, putting down a lawyer’s failure to seek a second-degree conviction as a trial strategy favoring self-defense. Justices Robin Wynne, Courtney Hudson and Karen Baker would have ordered another hearing on whether Riley had effective counsel.
Justice Webb is married to a $150,000-a-year employee of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, former Republican Party Chair Doyle Webb. Webb has said she will not recuse from the office’s criminal appeals because her husband works in legislative redistricting, not in litigation. She reiterated that by letter in this case.