A Taylor teenager who pleaded guilty in May for his involvement in a 2016 murder is set for a special hearing next week in Columbia County Circuit Court.
Eighteen-year-old Keaton Taylor asked for a special Rule 37 Petition request shortly after his May 17 guilty pleas of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery for his admitted connection in the April 13, 2016, homicide of 53-year-old Taylor man Douglas Harwell. A Rule 37 Petition, by definition, is typically filed in a 60-90-day period after a case, according to arcourts.gov, if a party desires post-conviction relief of some kind.
According to its legal definition, post-conviction relief typically relates to conviction appeals and, in some case, may result in one's release, a new trial, modification of sentence, or other proceedings that could alter a previous court outcome.
Taylor, 16 at the time of the murder incident, was an accessory in the case but was charged with the same crimes as his co-defendant, co-conspirator, and fellow 16-year-old at the time, Dekota Despain. Both were charged as adults in their respective court proceedings.
Despain had initially motioned for his case to be tried in juvenile courts, even appealing the decision all the way to the Arkansas supreme court, but the attempt ultimately failed. Taylor did not follow the same practice as his co-defendant, though, instead having his case heard exclusively in adult courts.
For his guilty plea, Taylor was sentenced to 25 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) for the murder charge, 10 years for the robbery count, and 30 years of the probationary term SIS (Suspended Imposition of Sentence). The sentences are being served concurrently, meaning his max prison term is 25 years. He was also given 762 days of jail credit during his pre-plea incarceration period. Taylor, as of Tuesday, is an inmate at Ouachita River Correctional Unit in Malvern.
Despain pleaded guilty to identical criminal charges a month prior to Taylor, also as part of a plea deal with the state, but was issued double the prison time — 50 years — for his involvement. Despain, admittedly, was the one who actually fired the two .380 caliber handgun shots that ended Harwell’s life.
Taylor’s case was closed after his plea, according to court documents. But, on July 26, he filed his Rule 37 Petition request. And on Aug. 28, Columbia County Circuit Judge David W. Talley Jr. informed both Taylor and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Phillips that a special hearing would take place Thursday, Sept. 20, for the petition.
In his request letter, Taylor said his reasoning for the post-conviction filing was based on three grounds. He claimed he was denied effective assistance of counsel in his case, that he was coerced into his confession, and that there was prosecutorial misconduct.
“Once I accepted my offer, my lawyers no longer attempted to work on my case,” Taylor wrote. “They waited on my co-defendant’s trial rather than conducting any investigation concerning the facts of the case and preparation for a defense to present at trial.”
“The attorneys told me, bottom line, if I didn’t accept the plea deal, I would be taken to trial, I could be found guilty, and given three life sentences. This was meant as a threat, and I took it as a threat.”
During the May 17 plea, as with any guilty statement, Taylor was asked by Talley in circuit court whether he was coerced in any way into making his confession of guilt and was of sound mind during the proceeding. Taylor stated then that nothing irregular had occurred.
His legal reps, led by Robert Jeffrey of the Arkansas Public Defender’s Commission, also told the judge that day that their client’s decision to accept the plea deal was in no way forced upon him.
The Rule 37 Hearing, according to the latest docket release from Talley’s office, is set to be heard Thursday, Sept. 20, in Columbia County Circuit Court.
*This article was edited Sept. 13 to clarify the definition of the term "post-conviction relief."