LITTLE ROCK — A man who received a life sentence for a 2015 slaying in Texarkana is entitled to a new trial because testimony about previous incidents was improperly admitted at his trial, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In a unanimous opinion, the state’s highest court reversed Marvin Stanton’s conviction in the killing of Jesse Hamilton.
According to the opinion, on Sept. 25, 2015, Stanton and Hamilton got into a fight at a Texarkana gas station that ended when Stanton shot and killed Hamilton. Stanton was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder and 15 years in prison for employing a firearm to commit murder.
During Stanton’s trial in Miller County Circuit Court, a prosecutor asked Stanton on cross-examination if he was a peaceful and law-abiding citizen.
Stanton’s attorney objected that the question was not proper for cross-examination because Stanton had not testified regarding his peacefulness. The trial judge overruled the objection, saying the prosecutor could go forward because Stanton’s character had been placed into issue.
The prosecutor proceeded to ask questions that elicited testimony from Stanton that he had once pulled a gun on a man who had tried to run him off the road and had once slapped a woman because she had a herpes sore on her mouth and had spit in his face.
The Supreme Court said Thursday the trial judge erred in ruling that Stanton’s character had been placed into issue. The court said Stanton’s defense was based on a claim that the shooting was justified and that he did not say during direct examination that he was peaceful.
“It was improper for the circuit court to allow the state to present testimony regarding Stanton’s character for lack of peacefulness because there was no testimony on that characteristic for the state to rebut,” the court said in an opinion written by Justice Josephine Hart.