Melissa Jenkins cried before telling a judge last September that she was going to prison, where I belong, for her role in the death of her 8-year-old son, Robert Manwill. Jenkins cried when telling Robert Manwills father that it was her fault their son was dead. Jenkins fought back tears when 4th District Judge Darla Williamson told Jenkins she didnt believe that remorse.
At the time, Jenkins knew she was going to spend as many as the next 25 years in prison. She also agreed not to appeal the sentence to the Idaho Supreme Court. That was the deal Jenkins made with Ada County prosecutors when she pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the second-degree murder of her son to avoid a jury trial.
Williamson said at the time she would have like to have given Jenkins more than 25 years in prison, but agreed to the plea deal to spare the family and friends of Robert Manwill and the entire Boise community a difficult trial filled with graphic testimony about a childs murder. Williamson did decide Jenkins could not ask for parole.
Now it appears that Jenkins has changed her mind about the spirit of the no appeals agreement, filing a petition with the 4th District court in late August for post-conviction relief, saying her attorneys, Rob Chastain and Deb Kristal (who are certified with the Idaho Supreme Court to be lead and co-counsel for capital cases), did not do a good enough job on her case.
Among the claims made in the petition, Jenkins says her attorneys did not tell her about important DNA evidence that would have exonerated her, didnt do a good enough job of presenting mitigating evidence during her sentencing hearing, and didnt fight hard enough to move her trial out of Ada County.
Post-conviction relief is not a criminal appeal so it is allowed under Jenkins plea agreement.
Post-conviction relief is filed in civil court and is a civil proceeding related to a criminal case. Put another way, Jenkins is suing the state of Idaho, which appointed her former attorneys to act as public defenders and is asking a judge to reconsider her sentence. A convict can agree not to appeal but cannot give up their right to post-conviction relief.
Boise attorney Dennis Benjamin, who is certified by the Idaho Supreme Court to do post-conviction work on capital cases, said, in general terms, post-conviction relief is filed when someone convicted of a crime says there was a breach of contract between them and their attorneys. The petition is to ask the judge to modify or reduce the sentence, according to Idaho Supreme Court rules.
The burden is on the petitioner to prove there was ineffective counsel and requires specific examples as to why, Benjamin said. Then it would be up to a judge to determine if relief was needed.
That relief could go so far as to grant a new trial. The petition is usually filed with the judge who handled the case who would have the deepest knowledge of the case.
Williamson, who retired shortly after Jenkins sentencing last September, still serves as a senior judge in Ada County and will handle the post-conviction case. A status conference is set for Oct. 9.
Ada County prosecutors and Boise police say Jenkins boyfriend, Daniel Ehrlick, beat and tortured Robert Manwill over two months in 2009 before killing him on July 2009 and throwing the boys body into the New York Canal.
They say Jenkins did nothing to stop the abuse, helped cover it up and then lied to police about what happened.
Jenkins pleaded guilty just before jury selection for her trial on first-degree murder charges was set to begin in February 2011.
At the time, Chastain told Williamson that Jenkins believed Ada County prosecutors could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ehrlick killed Robert Manwill.
Jenkins admitted she helped hide her beaten and bruised 8-year-old son from family members and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare workers in the summer of 2009.
Jenkins said she failed to protect her son and that by allowing him to be left alone with Ehrlick on July 24, 2009 the day the boy was reported missing she was guilty of a charge of aiding and abetting murder of the second degree.
Jenkins has never said publicly whether Ehrlick ever admitted killing the boy or disposing of his body.
Williamson said last year one of the reasons she approved the plea agreement was the no appeals portion because Jenkins case also had some undisclosed legal issues that would have resulted in a long and messy appeals process if she were found guilty at trial.
An Ada County jury found Ehrlick guilty of first-degree murder in Roberts death after a two-month trial in late spring 2011.
Much of the evidence police developed against Ehrlick was through statements Jenkins had made to police and others, and prosecutors worked to make sure they could call her to testify against Ehrlick if they wanted her to. But they never did.
Ehrlick has consistently denied killing the boy and even testified on his own behalf at the end of the trial. But jurors werent convinced. It took them less than three hours to convict him.
Ehrlick is currently serving a life prison sentence. He has appealed his case to the Idaho Supreme Court but has not filed for post-conviction relief in Ada County. Ehrlick was represented by Ada County public defenders. The state hired Chastain and Kristal to be Jenkins attorneys since Ehrlick was already being represented by Ada County public defenders.
Roberts disappearance, reported on July 24, 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.
Patrick Orr: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS_Orr