LITTLE ROCK — Mental illness was behind an Arkansas man’s decision not to continue appealing his conviction and death sentence in the killing of a Polk County girl, his attorney argued Thursday before the Arkansas Supreme Court.

LITTLE ROCK — Mental illness was behind an Arkansas man’s decision not to continue appealing his conviction and death sentence in the killing of a Polk County girl, his attorney argued Thursday before the Arkansas Supreme Court.


An attorney for the state asked the Supreme Court to uphold a Polk County circuit judge’s ruling that Karl Roberts, 47, was mentally competent to make a knowing and intelligent decision to waive his appeal rights.


The state’s top court heard oral arguments but did not immediately issue a ruling in Roberts’ case, which has been before it multiple times.


In 2000, Roberts was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die in the 1999 killing of his 12-year-old niece, Andria Nichole Brewer. Roberts confessed to raping and strangling the girl, whose body was found in a wooded area near Mena.


The case was automatically appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld Roberts’ conviction. In 2003, Roberts told a judge he wished to waive further appeals and wanted to die for his crime.


But in January 2004, hours before he was to be executed, Roberts changed his mind and authorized his attorneys to appeal his conviction and sentence. A judge stayed the execution.


A Polk County circuit judge declined to reopen the case, so Roberts’ lawyers appealed to the state Supreme Court, which in February 2013 sent the case back to circuit court for new proceedings. The high court said a new mental evaluation was needed because the most recent evaluations of Roberts predated his decision to waive his appeals by three years.


In December 2014, Polk County Circuit Judge J.W. Looney ruled that Roberts was competent to make a knowing and intelligent decision when he waived his right to further appeals.


Scott Braden, attorney for Roberts, told the Supreme Court on Thursday that Roberts is actively psychotic and schizophrenic, that he hears voices talking to and about him, and that he has delusions that people are conspiring against him and using listening devices to spy on him.


Justice Courtney Goodson noted that a psychologist who testified for the state said Roberts gave rational reasons for waiving his appeals.


Braden said the psychologist also testified that Roberts’ rational statements were inextricably entangled with his symptoms. He said Looney ignored that expert testimony and instead substituted his own non-expert opinion based on letters written by Roberts and Roberts’ courtroom testimony.


Goodson asked Braden if Looney wasn’t in a better position than the Supreme Court to make a judgment about Roberts’ competence, since the judge was in the same room with Roberts and able to look him in the eye.


"For us to say that that was clearly erroneous, isn’t that a leap?" she asked.


Braden said Looney could reject the expert testimony, but he was required to state a reason for rejecting it, and he did not.


Ashley Priest of the state attorney general’s office told the justices Looney considered all of the testimony and evidence before him. She also said the state’s psychologist testified that Roberts’ mental illness does not make him incapable of making a rational decision.


"He understands what it means to waive his post-conviction appeal rights," she said.


Chief Justice Howard Brill and Justice Josephine Hart questioned whether the circuit judge addressed all the issues that the Supreme Court intended for him to address. Priest said the high court sent the case back to the circuit for a new mental evaluation, and a new evaluation was conducted.


Hart asked Priest if a new evaluation was the only thing the Supreme Court sent the case back for.


"That’s my understanding, yes," Priest said.


The court did not say when it would rule.