- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A death row inmate isn’t entitled to a new sentencing hearing just because his trial lawyer said he may have delivered “one of the worst” closing arguments of his career, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The court reversed a Benton County judge’s order for a new sentencing hearing, remanded the case back to the lower court and asked that court to use a more objective test for whether attorney Steve Harper provided adequate representation for Brandon Lacy. Lacy was sentenced to death after he was found guilty of capital murder and aggravated robbery in the 2007 slaying of Randall Walker, who family members said was suffering from symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Harper told the high court that he was under stress during Lacy’s trial and gave a closing argument that was “one of the worst I’ve ever given.”

“The circuit court erred because, when explaining its decision to grant a new hearing, it referenced only Harper’s own assessment of his performance,” Associate Justice Rhonda K. Wood wrote in the opinion. “A petitioner making a claim for ineffective counsel must show that counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.”

A medical examiner’s report concluded that Walker died of blunt force trauma after being beaten with a fireplace poker and stabbed. His burned body was found in the bedroom of his mobile home, which had been set on fire. Lacy and another man, Broderick Laswell, were both charged in the killing. Laswell was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole in 2011.

The Supreme Court’s order also denied a separate appeal from Lacy that had asked for relief because his lawyer did not argue he had a mental defect because of alleged alcohol-fueled blackouts and memory lapses. Wood wrote that several mental health experts had failed to find Lacy incompetent to stand trial.

Lacy’s attorney for the appeal, Patrick Benca, said he was out of state Thursday, but planned to sit down with Lacy next week and talk through the ruling.

“I argued in my oral arguments that there were enough objective issues there, but that’s not up to me at this point,” he said.

“Brandon suffered from memory confabulation. He would reach out after these blackouts and ask people what happened. He would adopt those facts in his memory,” Benca said. “I don’t believe that he did it.”

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