The Arkansas Supreme Court issued an opinion Thursday overturning the murder conviction and sentence of life and 15 years for a man accused of killing another over a parking space.
Marvin Arrell Stanton was found guilty by a Miller County jury in August 2019 of murder in the 2015 shooting death of Jesse Hamilton. Stanton was convicted and sentenced to life in 2016 but his conviction was overturned. A second attempt to try the case in 2017 ended with a mistrial. The Arkansas Supreme Court has sent the case back to Miller County for a fourth trial.
The opinion found that campaign activities on behalf of Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett which occurred in the courthouse during the 2019 trial were improper. At the time, Barrett was seeking signatures on a petition to run for the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Barrett was elected to the position as associate justice earlier this year.
“On the first day of trial, a family member of Barrett’s campaigned and solicited signatures on Barrett’s behalf in the courthouse. Prospective jurors were asked to sign election petitions for Barrett and other judicial candidates as they walked through the courthouse. Campaign materials featuring Barrett’s photograph and her asserted credentials were placed on the bailiff’s security station,” according to the opinion.
Stanton’s defense objected after the first day of trial and asked for a mistrial on the third day of trial based on an “appearance of impropriety.” Of the nine signatures collected for Barrett, “four belonged to prospective jurors, including one juror who was ultimately seated.”
Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson questioned the jurors and refused to grant a mistrial or remove the jury member who had signed Barrett’s petition.
Stanton was sentenced to life for murder and 15 years for a firearm enhancement.
“The primary issue in this case involves Prosecutor Stephanie Barrett’s campaigning in the courthouse during Stanton’s murder trial,” according to the opinion. “We hold that Barrett’s actions were, at minimum, inappropriate and gave rise to an appearance of impropriety.”
Barrett said she was unaware of the issue until it was raised in the courtroom by Stanton’s defense.
“The Supreme Court has taken as true every allegation made by the defense and I disagree with the facts as stated in the opinion. The opinion implies that the prosecutor engaged in conduct causing reversal that was actually conduct of a third party. I was inside the courtroom trying a murder trial and was not aware of what was going on outside the courtroom. Justice for Jessie Hamilton has been delayed once again and it is a travesty for his family. I deeply regret that one of the jurors signed my petition to be placed on the ballot and any appearance of impropriety that resulted from it. I will pray for justice and in this case that result will be Life in prison for Marvin Stanton,” Barrett said.