On Monday, the defense counsel for a murder suspect who was charged with capital murder at 17 years old filed an appeal against a recent decision by the Arkansas Court of Appeals that upheld a Faulkner County judge's ruling to try the suspect as an adult.
"This criminal appeal was submitted to the Arkansas Court of Appeals on the record of the Faulkner County Circuit Court and briefs of the respective parties. After due consideration, it is the decision of the court that the judgement is affirmed," the Court of Appeals ruling that was filed Feb. 7 states.
Hunter Drexler, who is now 20 years old, was 17 at the time he and three other teens allegedly killed Robert and Patricia Cogdell. He is currently charged as an adult in the July 21, 2015, shooting deaths of the Conway couple and is faced with two counts each of capital murder, aggravated robbery, theft of property obtained by threat of serious physical injury and abuse of a corpse.
His defense attorney, Patrick Benca, initially filed a motion with the Arkansas Court of Appeals in April asking that a decision by Juvenile Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr. that denied the defense's request to transfer the matter to juvenile court be overturned.
While the ruling did not surprise the defense, Benca said he has requested the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision.
"We filed a petition for review and rehearing," he said. "Those have not been decided yet."
Benca filed Drexler's petition for review just after 1 p.m. Monday.
Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Luke Ferguson said his office will continue to seek justice in the Codgells' deaths and agrees with the Court of Appeals' ruling.
"We believe that the trial court made the correct decision initially to keep Drexler's case in adult court so I am pleased that the Court of Appeals agreed with that ruling," he said. "If the decision is appealed further, my office will continue to be patient with the process. But, we remain committed to seeking justice for the victims in this case."
The appeal stems from Braswell’s decision not to transfer Drexler’s case to juvenile court.
A juvenile transfer hearing was initially held in October 2016. However, the final day of the hearing was delayed to Jan. 13, 2017, to give the defense more time to consult a cellular extractions expert after Benca said he did not agree with prosecutors admitting text messages between Drexler and Justin Staton as evidence.
Staton, now 17, was 15 at the time the Cogdells, who were his legal guardians, were murdered.
During Drexler’s transfer hearing, Staton testified he and Drexler plotted to shoot and kill his grandparents while he and Drexler were incarcerated in the Faulkner County Detention Center.
Staton pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of first-degree murder in May 2016. He agreed to testify against Drexler and the two other teens accused in his grandparents’ slayings. He also gave prosecutors the passcode to his iPhone, which led to the discovery of messages between Staton and Drexler regarding the plan to kill his grandparents.
Connor Atchley, now 19, also pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 2016.
Anastasia Roberts, now 19, was 17 at the time the Cogdells were murdered.
Prosecutors said Roberts played a lesser role in the Cogdells’ deaths and recommended a lesser sentence in her case.
Roberts ultimately accepted a negotiated plea deal as well in June 2017. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison with a 20-year suspended sentence.
Drexler is set to appear at 9 a.m. May 8 for a pretrial hearing in Faulkner County Circuit Court.