Attorneys representing a Faulkner County man accused of killing a homeless man in July 2018 are asking prosecutors to give more detailed reasons on the factors that make his case a death-penalty case.
Joe Bernard Nowell, 51, faces capital murder and abuse of a corpse charges following 60-year-old William Ray Holt’s 2018 slaying.
Holt, a homeless man from Little Rock, was found dead under the East Fork Cadron Creek bridge along Highway 287 during the evening hours of July 24, 2018. A juvenile found Holt’s body, with his throat “slit on both sides and his abdomen stayed open” shortly before 8 p.m. on the night in question. Authorities believe the man was out in the water for about 24 hours before being located.
Katherine S. Streett, who represents Nowell, on Thursday filed a motion requesting a bill of particulars because the defense counsel does not believe prosecutors gave detailed that properly explained why her client faced the death penalty.
In Arkansas, a defendant found guilty of capital murder can receive one of two punishments: life in prison without the possibility of parole or death. However, prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty in all capital cases.
Not only are prosecutors required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a capital murder defendant killed the victim premeditated and deliberately, but they must also prove there was at least one aggravating circumstance or factor that contributed to the alleged crime for the case to qualify as a death penalty case.
Earlier this year, senior deputy prosecutor John Hout gave notice that prosecutors believed the capital case qualified as a death penalty case because the murder “was committed for pecuniary gain; and/or the capital murder was committed in an especially cruel or depraved way.”
Because prosecutors did not provide more details regarding the aggravating factors associated with Nowell’s case, Streett said she “is unable to prepare his defense.”
“[The] [s]tate’s Notice of Aggravating Circumstances is wholly insufficient to apprise Nowell of the specific nature and manner of the act or acts he is alleged to have committed which amount to proof that the offense was committed for pecuniary gain or which renders the commission of the homicide ‘especially cruel or depraved.’”
The defense argues that it is unclear if prosecutors are alleging the Holt’s death was “committed in an especially cruel manner, or whether the prosecutor is alleging it was committed in an especially depraved manner, or both.”
This request is among 15 other motions, including a motion requesting a circuit judge to prohibit prosecutors and witnesses called to testify at Nowell’s trial “from alluding to, referring to, or in any way bringing before the jury, any evidence concerning photographs of the deceased, pictures taken at the scene of the crime, or in autopsy, which depict blood or the wounds which the deceased received, as such would only serve to inflame the jury and can resolve no disputed factual issue in this crime.”
Instead of showing photos of the crime scene, the defense counsel suggests that prosecutors show the location using “a simple diagram.”
A hearing in the matter is currently scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Aug. 13 in Faulkner County Circuit Court before Judge Charles “Ed” Clawson Jr. The two week death trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 13.
Online records show that Nowell was pinpointed as the suspect killer in this case after officials compared his DNA to DNA that was extracted to a hand-rolled cigarette that was found at the crime scene in July. Prior to comparing the DNA samples, investigators learned Nowell had picked up 60-year-old Holt in Little Rock and was having him panhandle money for him locally.
Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.