A trial date was set for State of Arkansas versus Derrick Heard after a hearing in the Jackson County Circuit Court last week when Judge Harold S. Erwin requested an explanation from Heard’s attorney, Ronald Davis, about why the case is not ready to be heard.
Heard, 18, who was charged with the capital murder of Lt. Patrick Weatherford in June of 2017, has been incarcerated for 19.5 months. He was 16 at the time of his arrest. According to Third Judicial Prosecutor Henry Boyce, the State was ready to try the case against Heard last June, a year after the incident occurred.
“We’re here to see why it has taken six months to file a motion for appeal,” Judge Erwin said last Thursday as he began the special hearing, which was called for the sole purpose of determining the defense attorney’s cause for delay in the case. Erwin laid out a timeline for the prosecution and defense as well as the audience and a handful of journalists and officers directly involved. According to the Judge, it was determined an appeal would be filed after a decision was made on Aug. 16, 2018 denying a request to have the trial moved to Jackson County Juvenile Court. The belated appeal for that order was filed to the Supreme Court on March 19, 2019.
Davis disagreed immediately with the Judge which led to a 30 minute debate on the procedures that have taken place behind the scenes to make sure the case was heard in a timely manner. “The court characterization is not what actually occurred,” Davis said, accusing the judge of attempting to make Davis look like he thumbed his nose at the case before the media.
Davis explained that the Notice of Appeal was due on Sept. 15, 2018, which was a Saturday, so he attempted to file it on Sept. 17, 2018 but it could not be filed electronically as Jackson County does not have a system set up for electronic filing so he had staff fax it, but when he checked to see that it had been faxed on Sept. 18, 2018 it was not done. On Sept. 19, 2018 he said he had the case file marked, but it was not done properly, according to Davis.
On Dec. 18, 2018, Davis explained, he contacted Judge Erwin personally and they had a conversation during which Davis requested an extension. He explained that the judge instructed him to submit an order to be signed filing a motion for extension. Davis said it was at that time his staff proceeded to write up an order, based on a template, filled in Prosecutor Henry Boyce’s name on the paperwork, and filed the extension without Boyce being aware of the conversation with the judge or that an extension had been requested.
It was obvious that Boyce was unaware that the incident had occurred with his name being on the sworn document, indicating it was served on Boyce, when Boyce questioned the attorney about the legality of Davis’ staff signing a sworn document for Davis. “I’ll take whatever sanction is issued,” Davis replied.
Since the filing of the initial paperwork, Davis has not retrieved the copies of the court records from the Jackson County Circuit Clerk’s office, blaming the clerk’s staff for not having the transcript of proceedings prepared or calling him to advise that they are ready. Judge Erwin asked Davis why the casefile was still in the Circuit Clerk’s office and if he had asked about the paperwork being ready, to which Davis advised he hadn’t.
“Are you trying to delay this case?” Erwin asked.
“Absolutely not,” Davis replied.
“Are you telling me it is not your duty to call the clerk and see if the record is ready?” Judge asked.
“This is not my first rodeo in Jackson County,” Davis responded.
Erwin asked Davis what he meant by that, but Davis refused to answer saying he withdrew his comment, adding later that he planned for Heard to walk out of the courtroom with him.
Judge Erwin questioned Heard about whether or not he wanted Davis to remain his attorney, to which Heard responded “yes”. The judge also inquired about how many times Davis has been to see Heard in jail, which Heard could not answer. When Davis was asked by the judge, he stated he didn’t know exactly, but responded “possibly” two to three times and “at least” to twice.
Davis advised the court he was “highly motivated” to try this case and he believes in Heard’s innocence. Judge Erwin responded to the attorney, who argued disrespectfully throughout the proceedings and accused the judge of being out of order, that he doubted Davis’ motivation based on slow responses and untimely procedure. Erwin asked the State if they had anything for the court or needed anything from Davis for the case to move forward. Boyce explained that communication from Davis has been minimum, as he doesn’t return calls, and is evidenced by the last motion from the court to compel Davis to report because he doesn’t answer calls. He referred to the incident explained by Davis earlier in reference to paperwork being filed with Boyce’s name as having no objection as clear evidence of failure to communicate.
Judge Erwin ended the discussion with three statements to Davis: you’re really close to talking to this court incorrectly; a compliment - you’re really a pain in the butt, which I was when I was a lawyer; we’re going to try this case.
The State agreed to set the case for the Aug. 5-16 jury term, to start the trial on Aug. 6. It is expected to take two weeks, where Davis submitted that most of his case would be an attempt to have the first suspect prosecuted. Pretrial will be held May 22-24 for motions from both sides, which will include discussion of video interviews that the Judge will be permitted to see before the hearing.
“Since Davis determined he would appeal the denial of his request to have the case moved, I’ve been following this case closely,” Boyce explained following the hearing. “I learned in January that Davis had not filed an appeal to the Supreme Court and came to the position of saying that Jackson County Circuit Court retains jurisdiction over this case and I want it set for trial. I have done nothing but try as hard as I can for almost two years to bring this case to justice. It’s been almost two years since Lt. Weatherford was killed, we investigated the case, arrested Heard, and began the process of pursuing justice for the family and our community. I want to reassure the people of this community that I’m trying as hard as I can to advance this case.”
The Independent reached out to both Davis and Boyce following the hearing. Boyce’s response is quoted herein. Davis has not returned a call.