Gov. Asa Hutchinson seeks to commute the sentence of Cecillia Roleson from life without parole to immediate eligibility for parole, but Greene County Sheriff Steve Franks has raised objections to the commutation.

Roleson, now 71, was convicted in 1980 in Greene County Circuit Court on a charge of one count of first-degree murder, a Class Y felony, for the 1979 killing of Carl Lipe of Marmaduke.

According to law.justia.com, Lipe was shot and killed on a rural road about midnight April 27, 1979. There were reportedly no witnesses to the murder. Two turkey hunters discovered Lipe’s body the next day.

Roleson and her ex-husband Jerry had been convicted of Lipe’s murder in a 1980 trial, but the state Supreme Court reversed the convictions on procedural grounds. Lipe’s wife, Rosa, the other accomplice to the murder, was the State’s chief witness against Cecellia and Jerry Roleson in the original trial, and against Cecillia Roleson in the retrial.

According to www.court listener.com, the state Supreme Court held that there was a lack of evidence to corroborate the testimony against Jerry Roleson of “still another accomplice” (not named but presumably Rosa Lipe) to the murder: “There was insufficient evidence upon which to base a conviction against Jerry Roleson and his motion for a directed verdict should have been granted. The judgment as to appellant, Jerry Roleson, is reversed and the case dismissed.”

Cecillia Roleson, however, was convicted in the second trial and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The state Supreme Court rejected her appeal on 15 procedural errors, and affirmed her conviction.

Franks said this week that the sentence should stand.

“I trust the court system,” he said. “She went to trial and was convicted by a jury.”

Franks added that if a jury assigns a given sentence to a convicted defendant, the defendant should serve that sentence.

“I know it’s an old case,” he said, “but the jury gave her life without parole and that’s what she should serve.”

Franks expressed sympathy for the families of both the defendant and the victim. “It’s a no-win situation,” he said, “but if you are convicted, and there’s no new evidence, then you need to serve the sentence. That’s my belief.”

According to law.justia.com, the Rolesons and Rosa Lipe had wanted to set up a prostitution business, but Cecillia Roleson had decided that Carl would impede the activity. According to www.court listener.com, Cecellia gave Rosa poison several times before Carl’s murder, to give to her husband, but Rosa said that she had only given it to him once.

Other witnesses testified to Cecillia Roleson’s efforts to procure a gun (which she had told them was for self-defense) and to her intent to set up a prostitution ring.

Carl Lipe was reportedly shot with the gun procured for Cecillia Roleson, and investigators recovered it from a slough. Investigators identified it as the weapon that killed Lipe.

According to law.justia.com, the State argued that Cecellia Roleson had masterminded the murder. Rosa Lipe testified she was afraid of Cecellia because she had threatened the safety of her child, and because she wanted to conceal a sexual relationship that had begun between the two women.

Cecillia Roleson is currently incarcerated at the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ McPherson Unit in Newport.

According to information from the governor’s office, Hutchinson also plans to pardon Anthony S. Knight, convicted in Jackson County in 1985 for aggravated assault, a Class C felony. “All terms of the applicant’s sentence have been completed and there have been no further criminal-law violations” said the governor’s office in a press release. “There are no law enforcement objections to the application.

Hutchinson also plans to commute the 80-year sentence of Donnie Whitley/Peterson, convicted in 1996 in Lafayette County on charges of manufacture, delivery or possession of controlled substance, a Class Y felony, to a discharge date of March 5, 2031. Law enforcement has registered no objections.

The governor’s office said an additional 64 clemency requests were denied and two had no action taken upon them. These include requests from both inmates and non-inmates.

In all cases of clemency grants, there is a 30-day waiting period to receive public feedback on the notices before final action.

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