Melissa Jenkins' murder trial in Robert Manwill case moved back to January

porr@idahostatesman.comAugust 26, 2010 

The upcoming first degree murder trial for Daniel Ehrlick scheduled to begin in October is now expected to last six weeks and possibly longer -- which means the trial for co-defendant Melissa Jenkins won't be able to begin later this year as planned.

Fourth District Judge Darla Williamson moved Jenkins' jury selection in Jenkins' trial to late January to give Jenkins' attorneys and Ada County prosecutors time to work on that case.

Both Jenkins and Ehrlick are charged with first-degree murder for the death of Jenkins' 8-year-old son Robert Manwill last summer.

Ada County prosecutors say Ehrlick beat the boy in a pattern of "escalating physical violence" that ended in a fatal head injury, and that Jenkins knew about the abuse, hid it from state child protection workers and did nothing to stop it. Both are also accused of lying to police about what happened.

The boy's reported disappearance on July 23, 2009, sparked a communitywide search that included more than 2,300 volunteers and the FBI and garnered national attention. It ended in grief about two weeks later when his battered body was found near Kuna in an irrigation canal.

Both Ehrlick and Jenkins have entered not guilty pleas and attorneys for both say the defense is simple -- that they didn't do it.

Jury trials for both Ehrlick and Jenkins have been rescheduled over the last year over legal wrangling over the case, and Williamson has said she wanted to keep the latest trial dates (Sept. 26 for Ehrlick and Nov. 29. for Jenkins) on track.

Williamson said Thursday, with testimony in Ehrlick's trial expected to last longer than originally estimated, she felt having that trial end just before Jenkins' trial was to begin in late November wasn't fair for prosecutors Jill Longhurst or Daniel Dinger, who are handling both cases for Ada County, or Jenkins' attorneys.

Attorneys for both Jenkins and Ehrlick have asked for a change of venue in the case, saying neither can get a fair trial in Ada County because of intense publicity in the case.

Williamson has denied those motions, saying she is confident a fair and impartial jury can be selected in Ada County through the "voir dire" process -- the individual interviews of prospective jurors. "Voir dire" means "to tell the truth."

Williamson has said that if she determines through these interviews that an impartial jury can't be selected, she would reconsider the request to move the trials or bring in a jury from another county.

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