In 2011, Melissa Jenkins cried in court when she said 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 Manwill's father that it was her fault their son was dead. Jenkins fought back tears when 4th District Judge Darla Williamson told Jenkins she didn't believe that remorse.
At the time of her sentencing, Jenkins agreed not to appeal her 25-year-prison term as part of the deal to avoid a jury trial on first-degree murder charges. She pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the death of her son, for which her boyfriend was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
In late August, Jenkins changed her mind about the spirit of the "no appeals" agreement. She filed a petition with 4th District Court for "post-conviction relief," saying her attorneys did not do a good enough job representing her before she pleaded guilty and she asked to have her 25-year prison sentence reduced.
Jenkins has changed her mind again, filing a motion last week to drop her request for relief. That decision means Jenkins will serve her entire prison term and can't file the petition again.
Jenkins did not appear in court Friday to explain why, but current defense attorney Paul Taber said "she just did it for personal reasons."
"She thought about the case and decided she just didn't want to go through with it," Taber said. "She decided it just wasn't in her best interests."
Williamson said in 2011 that she would have liked 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 Boise community a difficult trial filled with graphic testimony about a child's murder. Williamson did decide Jenkins could not ask for parole.
Among the claims in the post-conviction relief petition, Jenkins said attorneys Rob Chastain and Deb Kristal - both certified by the Idaho Supreme Court to handle capital cases - did not tell her about unspecified DNA evidence that might have exonerated her, didn't do a good enough job of presenting mitigating evidence during sentencing and didn't fight hard enough to move her trial out of Ada County.
Jenkins did not address those issues in the affidavit withdrawing the petition.
SUING THE STATE
Post-conviction relief is different than a traditional appeal. Convicts can agree not to appeal but cannot give up their right to post-conviction relief. The relief request is filed in civil court related to a criminal case. Put another way, Jenkins was suing the state of Idaho, which appointed her former public defenders, arguing there was a breach of contract between her and her 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 ineffective counsel and requires specific examples. The petition is usually filed with the judge who handled the case, who would have the deepest knowledge of the case. It's up to the judge to decide on the relief, which can include a new trial.
Robert's 2009 disappearance sparked a communitywide search that included more than 2,300 volunteers and the FBI. It ended about two weeks later when his battered body was found near Kuna in an irrigation canal.
Prosecutors and police said Jenkins' boyfriend, Daniel Ehrlick, beat and tortured Robert before killing him and throwing his body into the New York Canal. A jury found Ehrlick guilty of first-degree murder after a two-month trial in 2011. Much of the evidence against Ehrlick consisted of statements Jenkins made to police and others. Prosecutors worked to make sure they could call her to testify against Ehrlick but did not do so.
Jenkins has never said publicly whether Ehrlick admitted to killing the boy or disposing of his body.
She admitted she helped hide her beaten and bruised son from family members and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare workers. Jenkins pleaded guilty just before her trial began in February 2011.
At the time, Chastain told Williamson that Jenkins believed prosecutors could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ehrlick killed Robert Manwill.
Williamson said last year that one of the reasons she approved the plea deal was the no-appeal portion, because the case had undisclosed legal issues that would have resulted in a long, messy appeals process were she found guilty at trial.
Ehrlick consistently denied killing the boy and even testified on his own behalf at the end of the trial. He has appealed his case to the Idaho Supreme Court but has not filed for post-conviction relief in Ada County.
Patrick Orr: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS_Orr