The Arkansas Supreme Court today denied convicted Drew County murderer Robert Hoover’s latest bid for a court to hear evidence to change his two life sentences. Hoover was convicted in March 2002 of the December 2000 robbery and stabbing death of James Wesley Masters at Masters’ Monticello apartment.
In a 2000 written statement, Hoover said he and his then-girlfriend Amanda Helton moved into James Masters’s apartment in October 2000, and remained there for about two months. During these two months, Hoover and Helton watched Masters to determine what personal property and money he had.
According to Hoover, while he and Helton were living with Masters, they planned his murder and robbery, but did not carry out those plans until later when they got a chance to move to Florida.
On December 28, 2000, Hoover and Helton went to Masters’ apartment to kill and rob him to obtain money to move to Florida.
That night in Masters’ apartment, Hoover waited until Masters turned his back and then stabbed him several times with his hunting knife.
Masters fell to the floor and then crawled to a corner, begging for his life. Hoover helped Masters to his feet and then stabbed Masters again, but Masters tried to block the knife with his hands.
Dr. Stephen Erickson, a state Medical Examiner, testified at Hoover’s Drew County Circuit Court trial that Masters had knife wounds on his hands.
According to Hoover, Helton came up and knocked on the window after he stabbed Masters. She had been waiting in Hoover’s truck downstairs. While Hoover was letting her in, Masters crawled to a bedroom and was attempting to close the door when Hoover came back and kicked the door open. Hoover said that at this time, Helton complained that Hoover had not finished Masters off yet. Hoover said he then grabbed Masters’ hair, lifted his head back, and slashed his throat.
According to Dr. Erickson’s testimony, Masters’ jugular vein was entirely severed and his carotid artery was partially severed.
After the murder, Hoover and Helton took Masters’ cash, which amounted to about $200, and a cassette player. They then went to the Saline River where they disposed of the weapon in the river and burned some of their bloody clothing.
Once in Florida, Hoover and Helton began to fight and Hoover apparently began to feel remorse for killing Masters. He wrote out a statement describing the killing and robbery. He also made calls to his father in Monticello. Based on the phone calls and other evidence, Hoover was interviewed by the Arkansas State Police in Florida. Hoover turned over his written statement to police, and was returned to Arkansas where he stood trial in March 2002.
He was convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery and received two life sentences.
Hoover has filed a petition to for a “writ of error of coram nobis” – an order for the trial court to consider evidence Hoover claimed could change his sentences. A writ of error coram nobis is an extraordinarily rare remedy and known more for its denial than its approval. It is allowed only under compelling circumstances to achieve justice and to address errors of the most fundamental nature.
In a five-page ruling today, the Arkansas Supreme Court said it could find no reason to grant Hoover’s petition.
In his petition, Hoover claimed the prosecution withheld evidence of a deal with Helton, wrote the judge and interfered with an ordered mental evalution, and that his sentence violates double jeopardy, and the charge of aggravated robbery was not proven.
“Only one of the three claims is of the ilk that may be cognizable in proceedings for the writ, and that claim is without merit,” the court wrote.
The considered claim was that the prosecution withheld evidence of a deal with Helton, Hoover’s co-defendant.
Hoover did not in his petition assert that the information concerning the state’s deal with Helton might have been used in his trial defense. Instead, he said that if his co-defendant was offered a deal with a lesser sentence he should have been offered the same deal.
However, Hoover offered no authority or persuasive argument to support his position that the prosecution was required to offer him a plea deal.
“Where it is not apparent without further research that the argument is well taken, we have made it clear that we will not address those arguments that were presented without citation to authority or convincing argument,” the court wrote. “More importantly, even assuming that (Hoover’s) allegations had any merit and a plea offer would have been required, there would nevertheless have been a judgment against (him) for the crimes, albeit a guilty plea. (Hoover) failed to demonstrate that the allegedly withheld evidence would have had any effect upon his trial or that the judgment in this case would not have been rendered or would have been prevented if the facts had been known.”