LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A lawyer for a death row inmate who killed an Arkansas police officer told the state Supreme Court on Thursday that a judge let his sympathy for the officer's family get in the way of his duties during trial.
Jerry Lard was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death last year in northeast Arkansas after he fatally shot Trumann police officer Jonathan Schmidt in 2011.
Attorney Janice Vaughn told Arkansas' highest court on Thursday that the judge overseeing Lard's trial failed to sequester some of Schmidt's family who testified during sentencing.
"Officer Jonathan Schmidt was out doing his duty as a police officer, trying to enforce the law when he was senselessly gunned down," Vaughn told the justices. "I'm here today asking that this court do no less than what Officer Schmidt was trying to do and that is enforce the law."
"Unfortunately, the trial judge did not always do that in this case. He let his sympathy for the victim's family get in the way of his duty," she said.
Vaughn wants a new trial for Lard, while the state wants the court to uphold Lard's conviction and sentence.
Assistant Attorney General Rebecca Kane told the justices that victims' representatives can be present during the guilt-innocence part of the trial and then testify about victim impact.
"The victims' impact statements were provided to the defense 21 days prior to trial as required by the court," Kane said. Then, during testimony, "they did not deviate from their victim impact statements."
No one disputes that Lard, 39, shot Schmidt during a traffic stop in April 2011. But Lard's lawyers argued at trial that he suffers from a mental disease or defect.
In addition to the capital murder conviction for Schmidt's death, Lard was also convicted of attempted capital murder for shooting at Schmidt's partner, Sgt. Corey Overstreet.
Overstreet testified at trial that he showed up as backup after Schmidt pulled over a car in which Lard was a passenger. At one point, Schmidt asked Lard his name and birthday and radioed the information back. Schmidt walked to Lard's side of the car.
"When he opened the door, a hand reached out and started shooting Jonathan," Overstreet testified at trial.
Overstreet went to reach for his gun, but he said Lard pointed his weapon at him, so he scrambled between the vehicles.
In video shot from a police car, Schmidt can be heard pleading with Lard off-camera: "Please don't shoot me. Please don't shoot me again."
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