The Arkansas Court of Appeals, in a decision announced on Wednesday, March 31, affirmed the conviction of Paula Rena Martin, now 40, on six counts of fraudulent use of a credit or debit card, felony theft, second-degree forgery, and computer fraud.
In a case before Circuit Judge Sam Pope, Martin admitted she had “embezzled more than $160,000 from J Taylor Construction, LLC, while she was the office manager.” After her guilty plea, she asked that a jury determine her sentencing. The jury sent a sentence of 60 years in prison, a fine of $30,000 and ordered her to pay almost $163,000 in restitution after the 2019 trial.
After the initial case, her attorney filed a brief indicating that he did not see any proper grounds for legal relief and asked to be relieved.
While in most cases there is no appeal from a guilty plea, in this case a jury determined the punishment, and so an appeal was possible.
The defense attorney cited a pair of adverse rulings while potential jurors were being questioned. In one, the defense attorney supposedly told a potential witness that all the sentences run consecutively. The court ruled in the state’s favor, and the appeal court agreed. The other adverse ruling was the denial of defense counsel’s request to excuse a potential juror for cause based on his statement that he was “inclined to give the maximum sentence allowed.” The judge questioned the potential juror and determined from his answers that the juror would consider mitigating evidence, and the judge decided not to excuse him.
The final adverse ruling related to a request by Martin that all her sentences run concurrently. The court, however, imposed some concurrently and some consecutively with the appeals court deciding, “this is a discretionary decision for the court to make, and it is evident that the circuit court exercised its discretion in sentencing Martin, so there could be no meritorious argument with respect to its sentencing decision,” the opinion notes.
Martin is in prison at the Wrightsville Women’s Facility in
Wrightsville. She has a possible parole date of May, 2029.
Judge N. Mark Klappenbach wrote the opinion with Judges Rita Gruber and Mike Murphy agreeing. Gary Potts was the defense attorney.