A Eudora man will get a new trial after the Arkansas Court of Appeals threw out the murder conviction and 50 year sentence an Ashley County Circuit Court jury decided against him in late 2019.
The killing for which he was convicted happened on July 21, 2019, in the Pine Street Park in Hamburg, when Deunte Stanley, 25, was fatally stabbed during a fight.
The appeals court opinion states that in convicting Erskine Flamer Jr., of second degree murder and tampering with physical evidence the jury should have considered that the alleged victim in the case was also armed. Following the trial, Flamer was sentenced to 50 years in prison and a $2,500 fine for the murder as well as three years in prison and a $500 fine for tampering with evidence.
The court opinion notes that Flamer and Deunte Stanley were involved in an altercation in the park. Flamer’s girlfriend, Laporsha Franklin, was present and testified that Stanley approached Flamer and started shoving and threatening him. Witnesses said after a pushing conflict Flamer “poked” Stanley, and that Stanley collapsed. Stanley died from a stab wound while being carried to the Ashley County Medical Center.
During the testimony at the trial, there was no mention of the two pocket knives which Stanley possessed until the jury started deliberating. Police reports and witness statements likewise omitted mention of the knives.
After the information became known, Flamer’s attorney, Chuck Gibson, immediately requested a mistrial, which Judge Bynum Gibson denied.
On appeal, Flame’s attorney contended that the pocket knives were relevant to his defense and that at trial, he would have relied on the fact that Stanley had been armed.
After the jury returned guilty verdicts and set the penalty, the defense attorney renewed the motion for a mistrial, arguing that the circuit court abused its discretion by denying his motion for mistrial.
The appeals court opinion notes that witnesses said that Stanley, the aggressor, had put his hands into a pocket, and writes that the fact, “the victim was armed bears significantly on every aspect of the case.
Judge Raymond Abramson’s majority opinion notes that a mistrial is a drastic remedy and rests within the discretion of the circuit court. Such a remedy, he said, is appropriate only when there has been an error so prejudicial that justice cannot be served by continuing with the trial or when the fundamental fairness of the trial has been manifestly affected.
The majority opinion found that Gibson’s opinion created an error that was “beyond repair.”
While noting that there is a question of whether or not the information on the pocket knives could have been introduced so late in the proceedings, the majority holds that, “The fact that this evidence was not disclosed until jury deliberations is an error so prejudicial that justice could not be served by continuing with the trial…We hold that the circuit court abused its discretion in refusing to grant a mistrial. Flamer’s convictions must be reversed, and we remand this case for a new trial.”
In the minority opinion, Judge Stephanie Potter Barrett argued she believes that the information on the knives would not have been admissible, and Gibson’s opinion would not have changed the result of the trial.
The defense, the judge wrote, “cannot now claim that he was fearful of knives he had no knowledge of. A reasonable belief that deadly physical force is being used or about to be used takes something more than putting your hand in your pocket, regardless of the existence of pocket knives, even if they were, in fact, located in the same pocket.
“It would take communication of a threat of death or some other indication that deadly physical force was about to be used,” she continued. “There simply was no evidence of such in this case. Because the pocket knives were not admissible, and the outcome of the trial would not change, I cannot say that the circuit court abused its discretion or that Flamer was manifestly prejudiced.”
Flamer, now 25, is being detained in the Ester Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction in Pine Bluff.
He began serving the term to which he was sentenced in August 2019.
If the second trial also results in a conviction, he will qualify for parole in May 2032.
Judges Rita Gruber, Larry Vaught and Mike Murphy agreed with Abramson’s majority opinion with Judge Mark Klappenbach concurring with the dissent.
The opinions were announced on April 21.