In a plea agreement, three men convicted of brutally murdering three young children are released after approximately twenty years in prison. The men agreed to plead guilty while maintaining their innocence; they had originally pled not guilty. This legal maneuver has caused concern amongst some legal analysts and confusion amongst the viewing public.
Why was this case being re-visited? Apparently, through the appeals process, this case reached the Arkansas Supreme Court. News reports indicate that new DNA evidence and possible police and jury misconduct shed at least some doubt on the strength of the evidence used to convict these men. The Arkansas Supreme Court ordered new hearings to determine if the three should be granted new trials.
Per this agreement, referred to as an Alford Plea, the men remain convicted of the murders, but are released with credit for time served. The plea of guilty, while maintaining their innocence is, in theory, their acknowledgement that the State has sufficient evidence to convict them, should they go to trial. This is similar to a plea of nolo contendere in which the accused neither admits nor contests the charges; the impact is the same as a finding of guilty. There are, however, varying implications of a nolo contendere plea, depending upon state law.
The State (prosecution) has maintained their belief that these three men were rightfully convicted and there will be no further investigation into these brutal murders. So, why the plea agreement?
If the State does believe that these men are guilty and they have sufficient evidence, then the State should proceed with hearings to determine if they are entitled to a new trial; these were heinous acts of brutality. Generally, when convicts are released on probation or parole, they are required to accept responsibility for their actions. Yet, in this case they were allowed to maintain their innocence. Also reported, is that as part of the agreement, the men may not sue the State relative to this prosecution. I find these facts troubling.
Why would anybody plea guilty to a charge of which they maintain their innocence? If you had been incarcerated on life sentence (one with a death penalty), what would you say or do to secure your release?
Additionally, according to reports, the convicted men waived their right to sue the State relative to this prosecution. This too is disconcerting. Sovereign Immunity makes it difficult enough to sue any governmental agency. Why should this be of concern to the State? It certainly leads one to believe that the State has something to fear.
While a conviction allows us to assert one’s guilt, none of know whether these men did or did not commit this crime. But, the actions of the State in this matter certainly indicate that something is fishy in the State of Arkansas.