Special Reports

Answers to some of the community's questions about the Robert Manwill case

Reported and written by Kathleen Kreller, Katy Moeller, Patrick Orr and Anna Webb.

When did Robert Manwill die?

Ada County Coroner Earl Sonnenberg said the evidence matches the July 24 day on which the boy was reported missing, but he would not give a specific date of death. The indictments say Robert was killed "on or about" that day. Sonnenberg would not say whether the child was dead before he was left in the canal where his body was found.

Where is Charles Manwill?

Manwill - known as "Chuck" - is on leave from his job with the Idaho National Guard, according to Guard spokesman Tim Marsano.

Manwill is one of about 1,000 full-time employees at the Idaho National Guard in Boise and has worked at Gowen Field since 2001. He teaches soldiers techniques on military reconnaissance.

"We're not only keeping him in our thoughts, we've been in regular contact with him," Marsano said. "We have several of his colleagues as well as chaplains, counselors and others who are offering assistance. ... We're a pretty tightly knit community out here, and he's one of us."

Many Guard members were present at Robert's funeral.

Manwill was not at his home Wednesday, according to a family member at the rural Payette County residence. He's "hurting" and needs some time alone, the family member said. Manwill's sister, Dorothy Aydelotte, said she's still processing all the information that's come out about Robert's death, and she had no comment.

Why was Robert visiting his mother when she didn't have full custody?

Robert Manwill visited his mother for seven weeks each summer, in addition to certain weekends and holidays, according to a 2008 custody agreement between his parents. Charles Manwill and Melissa Jenkins shared custody of the 8-year-old, but Manwill retained primary custody as of July 2008.

According to the custody agreement, Robert was supposed to visit his mother for four weeks, go home to his father for a week and then back to his mother for the remaining three weeks.

Ehrlick's father, Daniel Ehrlick Sr., said he believed Jenkins' visitation with Robert had been suspended when she lost custody of her infant, Aidan, in October last year when she was charged with injury to a child. He said she had since regained custody of the baby, and Robert's visitation was restored.

How are family members reacting to Ehrlick's and Jenkins' arrest and indictment?

Daniel Ehrlick Sr. said he will no longer speak to his son.

"All I care about now is Robert. Rest in peace," said Ehrlick Sr., who didn't attend Wednesday's court hearing. "They are going to pay for it every day for the rest of their lives. This boy had no chance in this world."

Melissa Jenkins' sister Trish Burrill and her husband, Kyle Burrill, declined to comment when approached after the hearing.

If what the indictment says is true, what explains the psychology of two people who grieved publicly, asked for help and attended searches and vigils while knowing the truth?

Thomas Young, a medical doctor and director of operations at The Children's Home Society of Idaho, said the couple's actions, if true, could have more to do with criminal intent than psychology.

"If I'm a criminal, I can't run away, which would make me instantly guilty, I'm going to try to blend in with the crowd," Young said. "Once they colluded, they were equally guilty under the law. They probably had to sit and discuss what they were going to do about it."

A public display of anything other than emotion and pain would have been an instant indictment, Young said.

"These people just have a perverse moral compass and were protecting themselves. They saw playing dumb as their only escape. It's almost adolescent thinking. You spill something, your mom comes in and asks who did it. You say, 'I don't know,' even if you were the only one in the house."

Who testified against Ehrlick and Jenkins in front of the grand jury?

Prosecutors called 10 witnesses against Ehrlick, including a Kuna firefighter who helped retrieve Robert's body from the New York Canal, a crime scene specialist for the Boise Police Department, Robert's father, Ada County's pathologist Glen Groben, Boise Police Department detectives and a social worker from Taft Elementary School in Boise.

Just two people were called to testify against Jenkins: a staff member of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and a member of the Boise Police Department.

Will Ada County prosecutors seek the death penalty for either Ehrlick or Jenkins?

They have 60 days to decide, and Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower said much of the decision will depend on what kind of mitigating evidence defense attorneys provide to prosecutors as they swap discovery on the case.

It's the prosecutor's job to determine whether the aggravating factors exist for a jury to sentence someone to death, like if the killing was heinously cruel, the defendant has a propensity to commit murder, or the killer showed an utter disregard for human life.

It's up to defense attorneys to find the mitigating factors a jury might consider to spare a life, like if the defendant suffers from mental illness or was a victim of child abuse themselves.

Could an Ada County jury spare the life of a child killer?

It happened in 2004 when a jury spared the life of Ignacio Sanchez, despite evidence that he beat a 2-year-old girl in his care over a period of two weeks, causing her death in December 2003. Prosecutors wanted the death penalty for Sanchez, but the jury spared his life after hearing mitigating evidence that Sanchez was abused as a child, was afflicted with depression and attention deficit disorder, and had been a methamphetamine user since he was 12. He is serving a sentence of fixed life for first-degree murder.

Who is the lead prosecutor?

Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Jill Longhurst, with assistance from Deputy Prosecutor Daniel Dinger. Longhurst is an experienced prosecutor who has been the lead counsel on six first-degree murder cases since 2000, including those of Raymond Ortiz III, Anthony Shaw and Ignacio Sanchez - in each, children were beaten to death. All three of those men are serving life prison sentences.

Who is representing Ehrlick and Jenkins?

Both said in court Monday they could not afford private counsel, so they will be represented by attorneys with the Ada County public defender's office. At least one will be represented by Amil Myshin, who has been counsel or co-counsel on more than 30 first-degree murder cases over the past two decades. He is also certified to represent defendants in a death penalty case, if Ada County prosecutors decide to go that route.

Myshin, who spoke for Ehrlick Wednesday, has represented convicted killers Erick Hall, Darrell Payne and John Delling in recent years.

Tony Geddes, another Ada County public defender, represented Jenkins Wednesday, but he won't work the case as a lead counsel. The public defender's office will likely hire an outside attorney, called "conflict counsel," to represent whoever doesn't get Myshin, to avoid conflict between defendants. That is standard practice in murder cases with multiple defendants.

Is it possible for an impartial jury to be selected in Ada County for a case so well-known?

That depends on whom you talk to.

Boise defense attorney D.C. Carr thinks it would be difficult, considering the publicity and the raw emotion much of the community seems to be feeling over the case.

"With this situation, with the small child as such a sympathetic victim, I think they are going to have a really hard time finding a fair and impartial jury," said Carr, who used to work for the Ada County public defender's office. "There have been stories every day, and that has led to a lot of fingerpointing at (Jenkins and Ehrlick on blogs and Web sites) even before they were arrested. There is so much emotion surrounding this case."

But Boise defense attorney David Leroy, a former Idaho attorney general, said he believes it is possible to pick a local jury, especially since huge groups of potential jurors can be sorted out for prejudice against either side by asking them to fill out questionnaires prior to actual jury selection.

He said he has faith that many people in Ada County who know about the case are capable of forming opinions based strictly on evidence.

How can the community channel the energy this case has created to better the lives of Idaho children?

Nicole Sirak, director of the Court Appointed Special Advocate program, said representatives from several local child welfare organizations - including Health and Welfare, St. Luke's Prenatal Care, and Idaho Voices for Children - met Tuesday to talk about new ways they might come together to create a community "web" around Idaho children.

The Manwill case, and the unanswered questions about how Robert, a child who did have caring adults in his life but still obviously need attention from the safety net, was the inspiration for the meeting.

The timing, on the day Robert's mother and her boyfriend were arrested for his murder, was coincidental.

Talks are just starting, but it's clear to Sirak that it's time to tap into community sentiment now. Since the Manwill events, she's been fielding calls from people who want to help local children but don't know how. Some have already made memorial donations to CASA in Robert's name.

"We're good at collaboration here in Idaho. Remember, the Idaho Human Rights Memorial (now an educational park) was supposed to be a simple plaque on the Greenbelt."

Patrick Orr: 373-6619, Anna Webb: 377-6431