LITTLE ROCK — A man accused of killing a transient in Crawford County in 2001 has not improperly been denied his right to a speedy trial, the Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday in a decision rejecting an appeal by the former death-row inmate.
Rickey Dale Newman, now 59, was convicted and sentenced to death in June 2002 in the February 2001 slaying of Marie Cholette, 46, in a “hobo park.” In January 2004, the state Supreme Court overturned his conviction, finding that he was not competent to stand trial in 2002, and ordered a new trial.
In February 2004, Crawford County Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell suspended proceedings in the case and committed Newman to the Arkansas State Hospital until he could be examined and found competent to stand trial. Cottrell ruled last November that Newman was competent, based on psychiatrists’ reports.
Newman filed a motion to dismiss the case against him, arguing that because more than a year passed between his committal and the finding that he was competent, his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been denied. Cottrell denied the motion, and on Thursday the Supreme Court upheld the judge’s ruling.
In a unanimous opinion, the state’s top court said the delay in finding Newman competent to stand trial was Newman’s fault, not the state’s, and therefore the delay did not count in determining whether the speedy-trial rule had been met.
“The circuit court was unable to determine that Newman was fit to proceed until November 4, 2015, primarily because Newman refused to submit to an evaluation,” the Supreme Court said in the opinion written by Justice Karen Baker.
Cottrell has ruled that Newman is mentally retarded. In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing a mentally retarded defendant is “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.