Hodge Makes Appearance in Circuit Court
Aaron Michael Hodge appeared in Craighead County Circuit Court in Jonesboro Friday morning. The appearance was the first step in the process of determining if Hodge will be re-sentenced for the murders of his family members in 1995 at their home in Rector.
"We had Aaron Hodge brought back from prison to appear in court today for the purpose of getting him back on the docket," Second Judicial District Pros. Atty. Scott Ellington explained afterward.
Dressed in white prison garb and shackled at the waist and ankles, Hodge appeared before Judge Tonya Alexander prior to the start of the regular court session. During the proceedings he was assigned representation by the public defender's office and a hearing was set for May 12. At that time Ellington, who is representing the state, will request that the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole be reinstated.
"The judge has the power to reinstate the current sentence, or go through the sentencing phase again," Ellington noted after the hearing. "He's already been convicted of the crime."
Ellington indicated if the sentencing phase is conducted again the length of time Hodge spends incarcerated could be determined by the judge or a jury -- in either case, the proceedings would be held in Craighead County beginning May 22.
Friday's hearing was the result of last year's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning mandatory life sentencing for juveniles.
The Supreme Court decision on Jan. 25, 2016, expanded a 2012 case, Miller vs. Alabama, which banned mandatory life sentences without parole for minors. "They didn't rule it was unconstitutional to sentence them to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but not giving the jury the option of to consider a lesser sentence was," Ellington explained.
The justices ruled 6-3 those incarcerated over the last half century should have a chance to be re-sentenced, in essence making the original ruling retroactive. As of 2015, more than 2,000 inmates nationwide were given mandatory life sentences when convicted as juveniles. According to Ellington, there were eight such individuals in the Second Judicial District, and at this point most have been resolved.
"When he was convicted, and as recently as two years ago, juveniles convicted of capital murder could not be given the death sentence, and it was automatically reduced to life in prison without parole," he explained. "And, that's where he fell within the process."
Hodge, incarcerated in the Arkansas Department of Corrections, was one of the cases approved for a sentencing appeal. He was convicted of triple homicide in the 1995 murders of his mother Barbara Flick, stepfather David Flick and half-sister Andria Flick. The crime occurred at the Flicks' home on Oct. 8, 1995. Hodge drove around in his stepfather's truck, spent his money, used his credit cards and threw parties with friends in a garage apartment with the three dead in the nearby home for a week before suspicions began to surface.
Hodge, 17 at the time, was sentenced to life without parole on Dec. 11, 1996, and has remained in custody since.
"We'll argue that he needs to be re-sentenced by a judge and his defense will likely argue that he needs to be re-sentenced by a jury," Ellington said of the upcoming hearing. "In some cases a jury may show sympathy to an individual who has been in prison for a period of time in excess of 20 years, but considering the facts of this case -- where he murdered his mother, his step-sister and stepfather I don't know if that would sway a jury, if we did have to go there."
Ellington indicated the only way the re-sentencing would not be held in Craighead County would be if Hodge, or his attorneys, requested another change of venue. Ellington doubts that will occur.
In the coming weeks he noted his office will be preparing to make arguments to have the current sentence stand.
"In the meantime we'll be filing a motion asking the court to make the determination that the Arkansas Legislature resolved this issue during this current session," Ellington explained. "It was filed by Senator Missy Irvin out of Mountain View, and it's an attempt to fix the unconstitutional issue by stipulating that anyone sentenced to life in prison is eligible for parole after serving 30 years. That doesn't mean they'll get parole, but they can file the motion."
If that were to occur, Ellington noted his contact with family members of the victims leads him to firmly believe they would be on hand at any future hearings, objecting to any early release.
"I'm sure they'll do their best to see he serves the full sentence," he concluded.
Ellington indicated Hodge is one of the last prisoners to be considered for re-sentencing due to the fact he had been transferred to different jurisdictions.
"We were set to file the paperwork and he was transferred to another jurisdiction to have some dental work done, or something," he added. "It must be filed in the county in which he's held, so we had a short delay in this particular case before we could file and that's what caused the delay."
Following Friday's hearing Hodge was escorted back to the Craighead County Detention Center for transport back to the Arkansas Department of Corrections pending his May court appearance.