by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Supreme Court made new law today when it reversed three consecutive life sentences given in a child rape case in Greene County and ordered Ira Gene Vankirk to be resentenced. Vankirk had pleaded guilty but the sentencing went to arguments before a jury which heard a videotape of the victim tell an investigator about the assaults.
Vankirk argued that he'd been denied his constitutional right to confront the witness. The circuit judge had decided that the testimony amounted to a victim impact statement and wasn't subject to challenge by the confrontation clause. It was the first time for the Supreme Court to consider the issue. The Supreme Court decided that confrontation was a right protected in the sentencing phase as well as during the trial on guilt or innocence.
ALSO TODAY: In a brief order, the court sent sympathy and best wishes to Vickie Jones, a trial court assistant who was shot and wounded by a man later killed by officers who went on a shooting spree at the Crawford County courthouse. The Supreme Court called on other officials to work with the court on improved court security.