Melissa Jenkins pleads guilty to aiding and abetting the murder of her son, Robert Manwill

January 31, 2011 

Melissa Scott Jenkins has agreed to plead guilty to aiding and abetting the second-degree murder of her son, Robert Manwill, in exchange for a recommended sentence of 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole, Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower said in a release Monday morning.

Sentencing has been set for August 11 in front of 4th District Judge Darla Williamson. Jenkins' attorneys can ask for a sentence where she could ask for parole before the 25 years are up, according to court records.

Jenkins, 31, and her then-boyfriend Daniel Ehrlick were arrested after days of community-wide searches for the 8-year-old boy, whom they reported missing in July 2009. The boy was found dead in a local canal after more than 2,000 people had turned out to look for him over several days.

Jenkins was charged with first degree murder but that charged was dropped Monday when she agreed to plead guilty to aiding and abetting a second degree murder as part of a plea deal with Ada County prosecutors.

The news of Jenkins' plea came the day that attorneys in her trial were set to begin the process of weeding through prospective jurors.

At a hearing at the courthouse Monday — called after both sides had hammered out the deal over the weekend — Jenkins told the judge she is on medication for post traumatic stress disorder, which she was diagnosed with after the boy's death.

She didn't say much during the hearing, but she acknowledged that she was aware that Ehrlick was physically abusing Manwill and that those injuries led to the boy's death.

Jenkins also admitted to hiding Manwill from Idaho Health and Welfare workers and family members in the summer of 2009 so they would not see how the child was injured at the hands of Ehrlick.

The deal between Jenkins and prosecutors is called a Rule 11 plea agreement. In most plea agreements, the sentencing recommendations act as a guide for a judge, who makes the ultimate sentencing decision. In a Rule 11, the judge has to agree to follow the deal. If Williamson does not approve the deal, Jenkins will be allowed to rescind her guilty plea.

Williamson said in court Monday she will know if she will approve the Rule 11 plea agreement prior to Jenkins' Aug. 11 sentencing hearing.

Ehrlick is accused of beating 8-year-old Robert Manwill in a pattern of "escalating physical violence" last summer that ended in a fatal head injury.

They say Jenkins knew about the abuse, hid it from state child protection workers and did nothing to stop it.

Both originally were charged with first-degree murder.

Though prosecutors had hoped to hold Ehrlick's trial first so they could force Jenkins to testify against him, Williamson postponed it because the prosecution failed to disclose DNA evidence in time for the defense to adequately get it tested.

Ehrlick has not pleaded guilty, and his trial is set to begin in April. The plea agreement does not say if Jenkins has agreed to testify against Ehrlick.

Patrick Orr: 373-6619

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