Murder trial for man charged with killing Robert Manwill is delayed over DNA evidence issues

porr@idahostatesman.comOctober 1, 2010 

Daniel Erhlick in an Ada County Courtroom.

IDAHO STATESMAN FILE PHOTO

The October jury trial of first-degree murder suspect Daniel Ehrlick has been delayed indefinitely because Ada County prosecutors did not give Ehrlick’s attorneys DNA evidence in a timely manner.

Fourth District Judge Darla Williamson issued the order Friday, less than a week after Ehrlick’s attorneys asked for a delay — and after jury selection had already begun.

Ehrlick is charged for what prosecutors say was the beating death of 8-year-old Robert Manwill last summer. Also charged with first-degree murder is Melissa Jenkins, who is Robert Manwill's mother and was Ehrlick’s girlfriend at the time her son was killed. Jenkins' trial is scheduled to start in January.

Williamson had said that she wanted to begin the oft-delayed Ehrlick trial in October and set strict evidence discovery deadlines to keep the trial on track all summer long.

But Ada County prosecutors did not give Ehrlick’s attorneys the results of DNA evidence tests until September, which Williamson said was not enough time for defense to have the evidence tested before the trial was to begin.

“If the court forces the Ehrlick trial at this time, (Ehlick’s) ability to to defend (himself against the murder charge) will be prejudiced; and if convicted, in all likelihood the court would be facing a retrial because of this late disclosed evidence,” Williamson wrote in her order Friday

“The court does not want to vacate and reset this trial,” Williamson continued. “However, the court is in an untenable position. The court is left with no choice but to grant Ehrlick’s requested continuance.”

About 300 prospective jurors were brought into the courthouse Wednesday to fill out a questionnaire to find out if they could be impartial jurors in the high-profile case.

Now it appears those jurors will likely be released from their service. The Individual jury selection process — known as voir dire — was supposed to begin Oct. 13.

Eight-year-old Robert Manwill’s reported disappearance on July 23, 2009, sparked a community-wide 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.

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.

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