Defense says evidence thin in the Manwill case

Prosecutors 'must be doing something or they wouldn't be so confident,' public defender says.

porr@idahostatesman.comJanuary 25, 2010 

Amil Myshin has represented dozens of murder suspects over his 25 years as an Ada County public defender - including killers Erick Hall, Darrell Payne and Robin Lee Row in their death penalty cases.

But last week, he told a judge that the grand jury testimony and evidence used to charge Daniel Ehrlick Jr. with the murder of 8-year-old Robert Manwill comprised "one of the thinnest first-degree murder cases I've seen in all these years."

While defense attorneys for Ehrlick and co-defendant Melissa Jenkins - Manwill's mother - have more than 20,000 documents of evidence to review, Myshin said prosecutors have not informed them some about basic steps - such as whether they are doing DNA tests or other forensic examinations on the vast volume of evidence seized from Jenkins' apartment and other locations.

Myshin said the secret testimony that led an Ada County grand jury to charge Ehrlick with murder won't stand up in trial.

"I don't know what it is, their theory (of the case). After going through all of these pages, there is such a huge volume (of documents), it's almost useless," Myshin told 4th District Judge Darla Williamson. "Based upon the grand jury indictment, to me this is a very thin case ... (prosecutors) have to be doing something, or they wouldn't be so confident. I just don't know what that is."

Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Jill Longhurst told Williamson they haven't kept any evidence from the defense.

"I don't see this as the big forensic case it has been referred to," Longhurst said last week. "It's the state's responsibility to preserve all evidence ... defense attorneys can test whatever evidence they want."

Myshin said the only forensic evidence he has received so far is the initial autopsy report for Robert.

Williamson gave prosecutors until March 15 to get their forensic testing scheduled and tell defense attorneys what experts they intend to call.

That should give the defense enough time to prepare their case before a trial, scheduled to begin in September.

Williamson also warned both sides that both trials were going to happen this fall, so they needed to meet the deadlines.

"I'm not going to reschedule this trial ... the trial dates are firm dates," Williamson said.

SEPARATE TRIALS

For all the publicity surrounding the search for Robert last summer, the arrests of Ehrlick and Jenkins after the boy was found dead in an irrigation canal have been shrouded in secrecy.

Boise police and prosecutors have refused to publicly disclose any of the evidence they have against the pair and kept it secret by taking the case to a grand jury - which is closed to the public - instead of holding a preliminary hearing.

They have also refused to publicly release the search warrant documents that helped lead to the arrests.

A few hints have spilled out in court, including testimony that Jenkins has made incriminating statements against Ehrlick. But not much else has been disclosed publicly. Ehrlick and Jenkins will be tried separately.

PRE-TRIAL PUBLICITY

Ehrlick's trial will begin first, with jury selection set to begin Sept. 22 and testimony set to begin Oct. 4.

Jenkins' trial is set to begin Nov. 29, but no jury selection date was set because Williamson wants to see how media coverage of the Ehrlick trial affects the ability to pick an impartial jury in Ada County for the Jenkins trial.

Lawyers for both Jenkins and Ehrlick want the trials moved out of Ada County and "north of the Salmon River," because they don't feel either suspect can get a fair trial, due to the massive amount of publicity in the case.

Williamson said she is going to try to pick a local jury before considering bringing in a jury from another county or moving the trial somewhere else.

Patrick Orr: 373-6619

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