The Arkansas Supreme Court declined last week to hear an appeal for a 2019 life sentence in a case where the murder victim was burned to death in Parkdale. The court did not rule out hearing the case in the future since its rejection was based on technical errors in the case’s submission.
The court also issued a denial for post-conviction relief in connection with an unrelated 1992 murder. The court’s decisions were released Oct. 1.
Anthony DeWayne Brown
Anthony DeWayne Brown — who was convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the 2019 death of Jesse Burton — had sought to have the court declare that insufficient evidence had been presented to justify the life sentence he received in August 2019. The court declined to hear his appeal because some of the evidence in question could not be reviewed.
Brown and Burton were involved in a disagreement on Dec. 31, 2018, and at one point in the evening Brown doused Burton in gasoline before lighting him on fire. Burton died at Chicot County Medical Center the next day, having been severely burned on the neck and face.
Associate Justice Rhonda K. Wood’s opinion about the case said that while the court records show the jury heard a recording of a 911 call following the fatal incident, there is no verbatim record included in the court record. The justice also wrote that the record does not include two interviews Brown gave while in custody.
Wood returned the case to the Ashley County Circuit Court to have the audio recordings transcribed as part of the record. Wood likewise noted that digital audio files were sent to the Supreme Court using a program that does not provide for attachment of files.
“We cannot reach the merits at this time because the electronically submitted record has several defects,” Wood said.
The case can be heard once the defects have been corrected.
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, is an inmate in the East Arkansas Region Unit at Brickeys.
Larry Rayford, now 50, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1994.
The body of Christopher Lyle Bailey, also known as Jay Smith, was found face down in a ditch off Highway 189 in Ashley County on Oct. 31, 1992. Investigators found a piece of paper with the name and telephone number of one of Rayford’s former girlfriends in his pocket.
Associate Justice Courtney Rae Hudson wrote the majority opinion Oct. 1 that denied Rayford’s fifth petition to allow the trial court to consider relief for him.
Rayford argued that Sam Pope, who was the prosecuting attorney when he was charged with the crime, could not legally order him 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.”
The justice noted that 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,” Hudson wrote. “In any event, Rayford could have objected when the order was entered.”
In a second opinion the same day, Hudson denied Rayford’s request 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.
“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.”
Rayford represented himself in the petition. Vada Berger of the attorney general’s office represented the state.
Rayford is an inmate in the Varner Unit of the state prison at Grady.