Murder conviction upheld in death of 8-year-old Robert Manwill

In his appeal, Daniel Ehrlick Jr., now 42 and serving a life sentence, claimed that misconduct by prosecutors prevented him from receiving a fair trial in the 2009 death of Robert Manwill, whose lifeless body was found floating in the New York Canal near Kuna. Ehrlick said prosecutors were allowed to tell the jury that he was a liar, influencing their decision.

The Boise man testified on his own behalf during the trial in June 2011. He denied having anything to do with Robert’s disappearance or death. He also said he was a good father to Robert and two other children in the household, and that any punishment he handed out was at the direction of Robert’s mother, Melissa Jenkins, his then-girlfriend.

On the witness stand, Ehrlick claimed that his father, brother and niece all lied about events that incriminated him. During closing arguments, prosecutors said it was Ehrlick who lied to police, planted evidence and fabricated stories.

“The prosecutor did not engage in misconduct by commenting on Ehrlick’s credibility,” Justice Joel Horton wrote in the state Supreme Court’s 41-page decision. “At no point did the prosecutor advance his personal opinion or belief that Ehrlick was a liar. Instead, the prosecutor explained how the evidence illustrated that Ehrlick was dishonest during the investigation and later at trial.”

Ehrlick reported Robert missing late in the evening on July 24, 2009. He told a dispatcher that he had spent the past three hours searching for the boy and that other people claimed Robert was at a birthday party. More than 2,300 joined together in a massive community search, the largest in Boise’s history.

Robert was found in the canal near Cloverdale Road on Aug. 3 with a rock stuffed in his pants. The canal runs through Boise about a quarter-mile from the apartment complex on the Bench where Ehrlick lived with Jenkins.

The body showed extensive injuries, including multiple compression injuries to the abdomen and a blow to the head. Idaho State Pathologist Dr. Glen Groben testified that Robert’s death was caused by blunt force trauma due to an assault.

Investigators came to suspect Ehrlick and Jenkins were involved in Robert’s disappearance. They found a piece of paper covering a hole in a wall in the apartment. After having the sheet rock scanned to create a three-dimensional model, investigators concluded that the hole was caused by Ehrlick slamming Robert’s head into the wall.

Ehrlick claimed prosecutors misstated evidence by tying Robert’s death to admissions by Ehrlick that shortly before the killing, he twice placed his knees and body weight on Robert’s chest and abdomen to “keep him from wiggling.” Dr. Allen Keller, a New York physician who specializes in injuries caused by torture, testified that the fatal injuries to Robert’s chest and abdomen were consistent with a 277-pound man kneeling on his chest.

“We conclude that the prosecutor’s statements were proper comments on the evidence that were supported by testimony and evidence from trial. Ehrlick admitted to kneeling on (Robert’s) chest while forcing (Robert) to remain in the dead-bug position,” Horton wrote. “Groben testified that a 260–280 pound man kneeling on the chest of a small boy would create the type of fatal injury that (Robert) sustained to his chest and abdomen area. Because the prosecutor’s closing argument amounted to a fair comment based on logical inferences supported by the evidence, we find Ehrlick’s claim of misconduct to be without merit.”

The jury found Ehrlick guilty of first-degree murder and failure to report a death to law enforcement. He was sentenced to two life terms. He is serving his sentence at the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino.

Jenkins, now 35, was convicted of aiding and abetting first-degree murder. She is scheduled to be released from the Pocatello Woman’s Correctional Institution in August 2034.