The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday reversed itself when it granted a convicted rapist's petition for rehearing that it had earlier denied.
The high court then reversed the man's original 40-year sentence and sent the case back to the trial court.
Edward Rogers of North Little Rock has now had his three convictions for raping three teenage girls overturned by both of Arkansas' appellate courts. The convictions were overturned on the grounds that Rogers' attorneys were never given a chance to discredit the credibility of the eldest girl's testimony by pointing out her conviction for misdemeanor theft.
After serving more than a year in prison, Rogers, 37, saw his convictions first reversed by the Arkansas Court of Appeals in October 2017.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which earlier this year reinstated the convictions by a 4-3 decision. Rogers' attorneys asked for a rehearing, and in a rare occurrence, a single justice switched positions. A different 4-3 majority ruled Thursday to overturn Rogers' convictions.
Thursday's majority opinion, written by Justice Karen Baker, concluded that the evidence against the eldest girl's credibility could have affected the testimony of all three girls, and thus each of Rogers' convictions.
Justice Robin Wynne joined Baker's opinion, after having previously sided with the majority to uphold Rogers' convictions.
"In sum, because all of the girls' allegations were intertwined, the circuit court's error in excluding the evidence cannot be considered slight," Baker wrote. "The case against Rogers rested solely on the victims' credibility, and the jury had to choose between whether to believe the victims and their mother or Rogers and his friends and family."
Justice Rhonda Wood wrote a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Courtney Goodson and Shawn Womack.
Rogers remained incarcerated Thursday at the East Arkansas Regional Unit in Brickeys. Rogers' attorney, Dan Hancock, said his client could be moved to the Pulaski County jail after the court's decision, and eventually released on bond.
"Ultimately, they got it right," Hancock said.
Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley said his office would review the court's opinion and weigh its options, though he added that he was "likely" to retry the case.
"You've got multiple child victims which is always a stressing, distressing process to put them through again," Jegley said. "What he did was awful. He ruined several lives."
According to court records, Rogers had become a father-like figure to four girls after moving in with their mother in North Little Rock. Rogers eventually moved out of the house in 2013, and the next year, the girls told their mother that Rogers had raped them when the mother was not around, according to court records. The mother then reported Rogers to police.
Rogers' defense argued that the mother and the girls had conspired to accuse him of rape after he broke up with the mother. No physical evidence was presented against Rogers, who was found innocent of rape against one of the four sisters.
In her dissent, Wood said the court should have never granted Rogers' petition for rehearing and that even if the theft conviction was allowed to be used to discredit the eldest girl, her testimony and that of her sisters was still enough to convict Rogers.
In addition to joining Wood's dissent, Womack wrote in a separate dissenting opinion that he would overturn the high court's precedent in considering all theft convictions a crime of dishonesty that can be used against a witness' credibility.
In a statement, Rutledge's spokesman said she was "disappointed" in the decision.
Metro on 10/26/2018