After several weeks with no cases involving Ashley County’s courts, the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday, Oct. 1, issued rulings in two Ashley County murder cases.

In the first, Anthony DeWayne Brown asked the court to find that the evidence against him was insufficient to justify a sentence of life in prison on a charge of first degree murder. The opinion by Associate Justice Rhonda K. Wood notes that the court records indicated that a 911 call was played during the jury trial, but there is no verbatim record included in the court record. She noted that the record also lacks a verbatim record of two interviews of Brown while he was in custody.

Justice Wood returned the case to Ashley County Circuit Court to have the audio recordings transcribed as part of the record. She also noted that digital audio files were submitted under a pilot program, and that the pilot program does not provide for attachment of files. As a result, the interviews should have been filed with the court clerk conventionally.

Because of the procedural flaws, Justice Wood wrote, “We cannot reach the merits at this time because the electronically submitted record has several defects.” The case can be heard again to be settled once the flaws have been corrected.

Brown and Jesse Burton apparently got into an altercation at Parkdale on New Year’s Eve, 2018, and Brown poured gasoline on Burton, then lit a lighter, leaving Burton with severe burns to the neck and face. Burton was transported to Chicot County Medical Center where he died the next morning.

Tenth District Circuit Judge Bynum Gibson heard the case. Jimmy C. Morris Jr. represented Brown, and Christian Harris of the attorney general’s office represented the state in the appeal.

Brown, now 51, who was convicted in August, 2019, is being held in the East Arkansas Region Unit at Brickeys.

1992 Murder Case

Two opinions involved Larry Rayford, now 50, who was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1994.

In the first opinion, Associate Justice Courtney Rae Hudson wrote the majority opinion denying Rayford’s fifth petition to allow the trial court to consider relief for him. Rayford argued that Sam Pope, who was the prosecuting attorney at the time of the information charging him with the crime, could not legally order Rayford indigent and direct the court reporter to produce a record at public expense. “According to

Rayford, Judge Pope should have been prohibited from entering any orders in connection with Rayford’s criminal proceedings in accordance with the Canons of Judicial Conduct, and the failure to do so nullified his conviction,” the opinion states.

“Rayford contends that Judge Pope’s failure to recuse himself in a post-trial matter that was extraneous to the underlying judgment of conviction rendered the order signed by Judge Pope void and, in turn, invalidated the judgment of conviction. Rayford is mistaken,” Hudson wrote.

She continued, “Judge Pope entered an order favorable to Rayford for the purpose of preserving Rayford’s right to appeal his conviction and recused himself from any further proceedings in Rayford’s criminal appeal. Judge Pope’s action in the matter was discretionary.... Judge Pope did not commit a gross and manifest abuse of discretion by entering an order designed to preserve Rayford’s rights on appeal. In any event,

Rayford could have objected when the order was entered by Judge Pope,” Hudson concludes.

In a second opinion the same day, Justice Hudson denied a petition by Rayford to amend his original petition and motion. “Rayford contends that because Judge Pope was the prosecutor who had signed the information charging Rayford with the crime, the post-trial order signed by Judge Pope was void, and as a result, this court should quash the judgment of conviction or recall the mandate due to a defect in the appellate process. According to Rayford, Judge Pope did not have the authority to enter any orders in connection with Rayford’s criminal proceedings... ,” Hudson wrote.

She continued, “The order signed by Judge Pope did not in any way affect Rayford’s trial and conviction. Rayford has failed to demonstrate a defect in the appellate process because the order signed by Judge Pope was not the subject of the appeal and no prejudicial errors were overlooked by this court.”

On Oct. 31, 1992, the body of Christopher Lyle Bailey, also known as Jay Smith, was found face down in a ditch just off Highway 189 in Ashley County. A piece of paper bearing the name and telephone number of one of Rayford’s former girlfriends was discovered in the pocket of the victim’s jeans. Rayford was later arrested and convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Rayford represented himself in the petition with Vada Berger of the attorney general’s office representing the state. Rayford is being held in the Varner Unit of the state prison at Grady.

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