LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction and sentence of a man serving life for rape.
The state’s highest court rejected an appeal by Samuel Hartman, 32, who was convicted by a Franklin County jury of rape and tampering with physical evidence. The victim was a female relative.
Hartman argued that his trial attorney, Ernest Witt, was ineffective when he made disparaging remarks about him during closing arguments, failed to object to the introduction of hearsay evidence and failed to introduce evidence that would have strengthened Hartman’s defense.
During the closing arguments, Witt used the terms “pervert” and “scallywag” in reference to Hartman and told the jury Hartman “did things” to the victim and might “deserve to be gotten on something” but was not guilty of rape.
At a hearing in circuit court on his effectiveness, Witt said he made the statements in an effort to build empathy with the jury and make a case that although Hartman had admitted engaging in sexual contact with the victim, the state had failed to prove he committed rape.
In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Robin Wynne, the Supreme Court said Witt’s strategy was reasonable.
“The fact that the strategy was unsuccessful does not render counsel’s assistance ineffective,” Wynne said in the opinion.
Hartman also argued that Witt should have objected, when a police officer testified about statements made by the victim’s mother, that the statements were hearsay.
The Supreme Court said Hartman failed to show that if the objection had been raised, it would have been successful.
Hartman further argued that Witt should have introduced evidence that Hartman had a sexually transmitted disease and the victim did not. At the circuit court hearing, Witt said he did not learn of the evidence until after the trial.
Hartman claimed that after a Franklin County circuit judge ruled against him on the issue of Witt’s effectiveness, he discovered new evidence contradicting Witt’s claim. The Supreme Court said it would not consider that evidence because there was no indication it was unavailable to Hartman at the time of the circuit court hearing.