Robert Manwill murder trial delayed — again

Fourth District Judge Darla Williamson postponed Daniel Ehrlick's first-degree murder trial Friday - after jury selection on the case had already begun - saying Ada County prosecutors "put the court in an untenable position."

Williamson had repeatedly told prosecutors and defense attorneys this summer she wanted to begin the trial as scheduled in October.

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 Melissa Jenkins - the boy's mother and Ehrlick's girlfriend - knew about the abuse, hid it from state child protection workers and did nothing to stop it.

Both are charged with first-degree murder, though prosecutors have been hoping to hold Ehrlick's trial first so they can force Jenkins to testify against him - under a deal stipulating that nothing she says in his trial can be used against her in hers.

But prosecutors did not hand over results of DNA evidence tests until late September, which Williamson characterized as a "failure." It did not leave enough time for the defense to have that DNA evidence tested before the trial was to begin, she said.

"If the court forces the Ehrlick trial at this time, (Ehrlick's) ability to defend 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.

"The court does not want to vacate and reset this trial," Williamson wrote. "The court is left with no choice ."

Jenkins' trial is still scheduled to begin in early January, and now it is possible her trial could go first.

Ehrlick's attorneys, public defender Amyl Myshin and Gus Cahill, told Williamson several times this summer they were frustrated that prosecutors had not turned over DNA evidence in a timely manner, and prosecutors said the testing was taking longer than anticipated.

At a pretrial hearing late this summer, Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Dan Dinger told Williamson that prosecutors decided they were not going to introduce any of the DNA evidence in Ehrlick's trial.

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

Manwill'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.

Patrick Orr: 373-6619