Attorneys argue motions in murder trial

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By Susan Sharp

While Michael Debusk conceded one of the motions he filed on behalf of Robert Arnett should not be pursued, he didn’t budge on two others in court Tuesday.

Arnett, who is facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of Billy Mardis, Jr., is currently out of jail on bail pending the June trial.

Seated beside his attorney on Tuesday morning, Arnett remained silent as Debusk made his arguments.

First off, Debusk asked Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton to issue an order compelling any mental health professional who had treated Mardis to turn over the man’s records.

When Sexton asked Senior Assistant District Attorney Mike Ripley to weigh in, he said the request was insignificant.

“I don’t think this motion has any merit whatsoever,” Ripley said.

According to Ripley, Debusk’s motion grew out of a conversation he had with the medical examiner and the report on Mardis’ death.

The medical examiner told Ripley the victim’s previous mental health issues “would not affect her opinion” as to the way he died, Ripley told the court.

The medication found in Mardis’ body at the time of his death was within the therapeutic range and there “was no basis to compel the state to produce” any type of mental health records, Ripley continued.

This brought Debusk to his feet.

“These were very powerful drugs for serious mental health issues,” he said. The cornerstone of Arnett’s case will be self-defense and insight into Mardis’ state of mind could prove useful, Debusk continued.

Records from mental health providers would reveal the victim’s exact diagnosis along with how he was responding to the medication.

“I can leave no stone unturned in his defense,” Debusk said gesturing to Arnett. “He is facing the rest of his life in jail.”

Debusk then offered to share any records he received with prosecutors.

At this point was denial of the records an issue, the judge asked. Sexton then inquired as to whether Debusk had attempted to use a subpoena to access the records.

“I am reluctant to give carte blanch without knowing who to present it (the order) to,” Sexton said.

Debusk said he had acquired a “few names.”

Ripley said prosecutors had little knowledge of who the providers could be and “didn’t want to interfere with the defense at all.”

“The state is off the hook here,” Sexton said.

He then told Debusk to approach the mental providers on his own and if he met with resistance, to come back to the court.

Taking that one on the chin, Debusk moved on to his request to throw out the indictment charging Arnett with first-degree murder.

At the center of that motion was the refusal of the grand jury to hear direct testimony from Arnett.

While defendants don’t typically testify before grand juries, Arnett had asked to, it was learned during the hearing.

However, the group declined to hear what he had to say.

Debusk was attempting to argue the grand jury had not been in total control of that decision.

“There is no evidence the grand jury didn’t make the decision,” Sexton said. “The grand jury is controlled by no one.”

The judge asked Debusk if he alluding to interference by prosecutors.

Debusk agreed that while no evidence existed they had intervened, it never would because grand juries operate in secrecy.

“That is not an area I would consider secret,” Sexton said.

Debusk asked for an order in this matter that would require the grand jury foreman to discuss how Arnett’s request was addressed.

“Our grand jury foreman would probably talk to you very candidly,” Sexton said declining again to issue an order for Debusk at the time. But the judge said he would take this matter “under advisement.”

Arnett is slated to stand trial next month in the death of Mardis.

Under state law, first-degree murder is the charging offense when there is an element of premeditation to the crime.

While LaFollette Police have not disclosed the details of the daytime shooting, it does appear to have a domestic element to it.

Following the shooting, investigating officer, Det. Jason Henegar, said it appeared Arnett and Mardis had been arguing over Mardis’ estranged wife, Shelia Mardis.

On the afternoon of December 1, 2008, Arnett, Shelia Mardis and Arnett’s 15-year-old son were at an East Central Avenue home when the men engaged in a heated discussion, records from the crime indicate. As they argued, Arnett emerged from his vehicle with a shotgun, Henegar said.

“He fired one shot and it struck Mardis in the abdomen,” Henegar said.

Instead of falling to the ground, Mardis retreated to his vehicle driving himself two blocks to the local emergency room, LPD complaint records said. Within 48 hours, Mardis died.

Arnett was arrested at the scene. The weapon, a .12 gauge shotgun, was immediately confiscated when LaFollette Police arrived, Henegar said.