Photo: Nicholas Roos
Convicted double murderer Nicholas Roos, now serving a life without parole prison sentence, has taken his effort to obtain post conviction relief to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Roos has filed a petition asking the nation’s highest court to agree to review a decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
In December, the state’s highest court rejected Roos’ appeal of the denial of post conviction relief by Baxter County Circuit Court Judge Gordon Webb, allowing the denial to stand.
Roos’ petition will join thousands of others filed with the U.S. Supreme Court annually. According to the Administrative Office for Federal Courts, only about 80-to-100 such petitions are selected to be heard by the high court.
The Rules of the U.S. Supreme Court make clear that having a hearing on a petition such as Roos filed is “not a right. It is a matter of judicial discretion sparingly exercised.”
The road to the U.S. Supreme Court began when Roos filed his initial Rule 37 Petition in Baxter County Circuit Court. He claimed his court-appointed defense lawyers did a poor job of representing him.
His primary contention throughout the appeal process has been that his defense team should have more thoroughly explored his claimed mental problems — including suicide attempts — and developed a defense of mental disease and defect.
In late November 2017, Judge Webb denied the petition saying he did not find sufficient merit in Roos’ argument claiming he had not been well served by his original defense team from the Arkansas Public Defender Commission – Katherine Streett and Teri Chambers.
Judge Webb’s ruling was made based on a review of the case and testimony taken during a four-hour hearing on March 28, 2017 in which Roos and the two defense attorneys who represented him through his guilty plea were among those who testified.
Roos took the matter to the Arkansas Supreme Court, asking for a review of Webb’s decision. The state’s highest court affirmed Judge Webb’s decision in December last year — a decision Roos now wants the U.S. Supreme Court to review.
The effort by Roos to obtain post conviction relief began shortly after be went to prison in May 2016 to start serving his life without parole sentence for killing an elderly Midway couple.
In early November 2015, Donald and LaDonna Rice, both in their 70s, were shot to death. Roos, who was one of three young people, then all in their 20s, charged in the incident, admitted he was the one who shot the couple. Roos told investigators he was attempting to raise cash to pay an attorney to represent him in a child custody matter.
Roos pled guilty to charges of capital murder and arson on May 24, 2016 and was sentenced to life without parole. He is an inmate in the Varner Unit of the state prison system in Gould. The two co-defendants are also serving prison sentences.
During his testimony taken during a 2017 hearing on his initial Rule 37 petition, Roos spelled out his various problems, including drug use and suicide attempts. He said that he had used marijuana since about the age of 13, had been drinking since age 9 and using what he described as “party drugs.”
Roos told the court he was able to control his drug and alcohol use until about three years ago when the woman he was living with and the child they had together left him. He said at that point he began using methamphetamine, opioids and “drinking to get drunk.”
Roos testified he told Streett and Chambers about these problems and believed they should have requested he be seen by a mental health professional, but that his attorneys didn’t arrange an evaluation.
The two local attorneys appointed to represent Roos for the Rule 37 process – John Crain and Justin Downum – argued such an evaluation should have been done to determine if there was even a possibility a mental disease or defect defense might have been mounted.
At one time, and unrelated to the Rice case, Roos was sent to a psychiatric facility in Batesville where he was alleged to have been diagnosed with paranoia, delusions, psychosis and as having no insight into his own behavior. Roos said he left the facility after only four or five days at his request.
During the 2017 hearing, 14th Judicial District Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Carter said the major question to be answered was the state of Roos’ mental health on the day he killed the Rice couple and burned down their home, not on problems he might have had in the past.
Carter contended there had been no evidence presented in the Rule 37 process to suggest Roos was suffering a mental defect on the day of the crime.
Both Chambers and Streett, who have together handled more than 100 capital murder cases, testified during the 2017 hearing they did not seek a mental evaluation in order to mount a defense based on mental disease and defect because they did not believe — based on substantial interactions with Roos — there was any basis to do so.
Chambers said Roos’ claimed mental problems would, however, have been brought out as a mitigating factor during the sentencing phase if the case had gone to trial.
Both Streett and Chambers testified that the evidence against Roos was “overwhelming.” The lawyers said they did advise him that given the case to be put on by the state, a jury could well sentence him to death.
Both Streett and Chambers indicated Roos initiated the effort to work out a plea agreement, and that they went over the agreement in detail prior to Roos pleading to the charges.
During the sentencing procedure on the capital murder and arson charges, Roos was asked if he was satisfied with the work Streett and Chambers had done, and he replied in the affirmative. He was also asked multiple times if he had anything to say and replied no each time.
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