The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the appeal of a man who pleaded guilty to a 1996 murder but now claims that he should be freed because the court judgments sentencing him to prison have an incorrect legal name.
Kevin Collier, aka Kelvin Collier, aka Kelvin John Collier Clay pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, aggravated robbery, residential burglary and theft of property in the Dec. 1, 1966 shooting death of James Rushing. He was sentenced to a total of 420 months in prison.
According to an earlier appeal, a second man, Paul D. Grice shot and killed Rushing and Collier was present at the time and helped to cover up the crime. Collier also contended that no robbery occurred nor was one attempted. He said in the appeal that he entered the plea upon the advice of his attorney at the time.
That appeal went on to say that later, Grice was sentenced to a total of 240 months in prison after he entered a plea to a charge of second-degree murder.
Collier filed suit against Department of Corrections Director Wendy Kelley in 2017, alleging that because of the error, he should be released from prison. The appeal was heard by Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis because at the time Collier was held at the Pine Bluff Unit of the Department of Corrections and is still being held there.
Dennis dismissed the suit, ruling that Collier’s conviction was not, as he contended invalid and Collier appealed her decision to the State Supreme Court.
Collier was also convicted of crimes in Bradley and Desha Counties and the sentences in those cases were to run concurrently with the sentence from Jefferson County.
Collier contended that his name at birth was Kelvin John Collier Clay and after his mother left him, he used the name Kelvin Collier and that “it was easy for those in authority to convince him his last name was Collier because in their official capacities, they were reinforcing an untruth forced upon him his whole life.”
He went on to say that because the criminal information contained an error in his name, the error is a “jurisdictional issue” and that rulings in other cases should not ban all challenges to the accuracy of the charging information or other claims made by Collier, as Dennis ruled.
Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Courtney Rae Hudson said Collier’s claims are without merit.
“Even if the criminal informations’ (the documents used to charge Collier) in Collier’s cases were flawed, the time to challenge the alleged flawed informations’ would have been prior to trial or a guilty plea — bearing in mind that Collier admitted he went by the names ‘Kelvin Collier’ or ‘Kelvin John Collier Clay.’”
“Collier’s challenge to the ‘misnomer’ on the judgment and commitment orders boils down to nothing more than an allegation of trial error and is not the type of defect that implicates the facial validity of a trial court’s judgment or jurisdiction and such an allegation is therefore not cognizable in a proceeding for a writ,” Goodson said in the ruling.
According to the Department of Corrections website, Collier will be eligible to apply for parole on June 9, 2021.