An inmate who was sentenced to death by an Ashley County jury almost 30 years ago was found dead in his cell last week.
Roger Coulter, 57, was Arkansas’ longest serving death row inmate. He was convicted and sentenced in 1989 for the rape and murder of 5-year-old Natasha Phelps of Bradley County.
According to the Arkansas Department of Corrections, Coulter was found unresponsive in his cell around 6:30 Friday evening, and was declared dead less than an hour later. No other information has been released at this time.
The prosecutor at that time of Coutler’s case, John Frank Gibson, and former bailiff David Oliver both said the case was to this day the worst they’ve ever seen.
“It was horrible,” Gibson said. “It really upset me because I had a five-year-old daughter at that time.”
Oliver said Coulter tortured the child, raped her and strangled her.
“I saw the photographs, it made me sick to my stomach,” Oliver said. “It was horrible.”
Court documents show that Coulter was living with his victim’s mother until he kidnapped the child. In April 1989, Coulter was supposed to give Phelps a ride to school, but the school reported the child never made it to school that day. The family reported her missing, and her body was found a day later in a hollowed out tree covered with sticks and limbs.
“He covered her up with leaves like a wild animal would’ve left her in a hollowed out tree,” Gibson said.
Coulter fled to California and was arrested there five weeks after Arkansas officials recovered Phelps’ body.
Coulter was convicted of capital murder in the Circuit Court of Ashely County in October that year and sentenced to death by lethal injection.