Appeals court denies petition of convicted child rapist

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A panel for the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ruled earlier this month to uphold a lower court's dismissal of a petition for post-conviction relief filed by a man convicted of child rape seven years ago.
   Judge Alan E. Glenn delivered the majority opinion of the court, in which Judge David H. Welles joined, affirming the denial of post-conviction relief for Connie Lee Arnold. Judge Joseph M. Tipton filed the dissenting opinion issued from the Eastern District of the Criminal Court of Appeals at Knoxville.
   Arnold was convicted by a Carter County jury of child rape and especially aggravated exploitation in November 1995 following an incident involving one of his daughters in 1994. He was sentenced to consecutive sentences of twenty-five years for rape and twelve years on the aggravated exploitation conviction.
   In a series of correspondences to judges and court clerks, Arnold vehemently maintained his innocence of all charges. He requested a change of counsel on several occasions, according to court documents of the case.
   According to court records, Arnold had been previously convicted of rape in Orange County, N.C. in 1972, attempt to commit second degree rape in Watauga County, N.C., in 1987.
   Court records also reported Arnold was convicted in Haywood County, N.C., in 1987 on a charge of felonious taking liberties with a minor.
   Arnold was originally indicted in Johnson County, but the trial was later moved to Carter County, according to court records. Following the affirmance of his convictions and sentences on direct appeal, he filed a "pro se" petition for post-conviction relief.
   The majority opinion reads that the petitioner "reargues the claim made in his direct appeal that the trial court, that his counsel should have ordered a mental evaluation for him and that, in this regard, both trial and appellate counsel 'weakly argued' this point."
   Arnold's petition alleged that his counsel was ineffective because a "diminished capacity defense [was] not allowed" and that the trial court admitted illegal evidence by allowing his ex-wife to testify in violation of the marital privilege and by allowing the "alleged" victim to perjure herself at the trial, according to the opinion's summary of the petition.
   Claiming that he did not receive a fair trial because of pretrial publicity, Arnold alleged in the petition " ... from arrest to trial and retrial was subject to the news media constant exploitation of said charges and no fair trial could ever be had in Carter County and counsel of record [sic] did nothing to prevent same to the harms way of petition in his day in court, and unjust verdicts, and illegal imprisonment for same."
   No facts or details were provided as to this claim by Arnold, according to the opinion.
   Judge Tipton wrote in his dissenting opinion that Smith's petition alleged "a colorable claim regarding the ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to seek a change of venue in the face of bad publicity."
   Tipton wrote he would remand the case to the trial court for the appointment of counsel and counsel's filing of a concise amendment to the petition raising any legitimate grounds for relief the petitioner arguably has.