Prosecutor: Death row inmate set free due to mental illness

CRAWFORD COUNTY, Ark. -- An Arkansas death row inmate has walked free after spending nearly two decades in prison.

Officials say Rickey Dale Newman was convicted of capital murder after he confessed to killing a woman in 2001.

In a surprising twist, Special Prosecutor Ron Fields filed a two-page letter, telling the court that the case against Newman should be dismissed. Fields says there is not enough evidence to move forward with a retrial and Newman's mental illnesses are ultimately what set him free.

"The fact that we couldn't use all the different confessions he made that he murdered the woman, both written, oral, video taped over the years," Fields told KFSM. "Without being able to use those as evidence, in my opinion, it would be a waste of tax payers money to retry him. Even if we convicted him in trial, I don't think the Supreme Court would allow us to uphold the conviction."

Fields said Newman's mental illnesses are similar to that of a professional football player suffering from C.T.E and that is what kept him from working with legal counsel, a violation of Newman's constitutional rights.

"He was physically abused as a child," Fields said. "I'm comfortable in thinking he probably has those defects. The psychological reports indicate that."

In more than 20 years of prosecution, Fields said this case is different than others he's worked on, but won't require further examination.

"In all those cases, I told them to keep looking for the right guy," Fields said. "In this case, I'm convinced they had the right guy. I have not asked them to take any further investigatory steps."

KFSM also interviewed a former inmate who remembered being incarcerated with Newman.

“He’s an older guy,” Shawn Harper said. “He had some kind of disease, shaking all the time. [He is] real kind, just talked quiet, talked properly and everything.”

He says that Newman admitted to the crime multiple times.

“He confessed to me and a couple other buddies who were in there,” Harper said. “He told us what all went down. He told us he had killed her and that’s what he told everybody else; he killed her, he never denied it.”

Harper says he doesn't believe that Newman would kill again, but says that he never showed remorse for the crime.

"He never said that he was sorry for what he did, never apologized, never shed a tear, nothing," Harper said.

Now free, Newman will not be required to seek mental counseling, but the prosecutor said he isn't sure what is next for Newman.

"That's up to him," Fields said. "I haven't spoken to him."

Fields said Newman has no family locally, but believes he may be headed up North to be with other family. Fields said he does not plan to speak with Newman as it would be, "inappropriate and unethical to do so."