Special Reports

Melissa Jenkins, Daniel Ehrlick plead not guilty to murder of Robert Manwill

Daniel Ehrlick Jr. and his girlfriend, Melissa Scott Jenkins, appeared in an Ada County Courtroom in Boise Wednesday Aug. 19, 2009 for an arraignment hearing. Ehrlick and Jenkins were arrested on Tuesday Aug. 18, 2009 on first-degree murder charges in the death of Jenkins' 8-year-old son Robert Manwill.
Daniel Ehrlick Jr. and his girlfriend, Melissa Scott Jenkins, appeared in an Ada County Courtroom in Boise Wednesday Aug. 19, 2009 for an arraignment hearing. Ehrlick and Jenkins were arrested on Tuesday Aug. 18, 2009 on first-degree murder charges in the death of Jenkins' 8-year-old son Robert Manwill. Shawn Raecke / Idaho Statesman

Melissa Jenkins and Daniel Ehrlick pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of first-degree murder in connection with the beating death of Jenkins' 8-year-old son Robert Manwill in July.

The two, both charged with first degree murder, stood silent during their entry of plea hearing Thursday in front of 4th District Judge Darla Williamson so not guilty pleas were entered for them.

Ehrlick is accused of beating the boy to death, and Jenkins is accused of covering up the crime and lying to police about what happened.

Ehrlick and Jenkins, who appeared separately in front of Williamson Thursday, both waived their speedy trial rights so a jury trial on the case won't likely happen until next summer at the earliest.

The next hearing in the case is set for Nov. 5, when a trial date likely will be set. Defense attorneys say they need to know whether or not Ada County prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against Ehrlick or Jenkins before they can schedule a trial.

Prosecutors have until the middle of October to make that decision.

Rob Chastain, Jenkins' attorney, told Williamson he did not yet know if he planned to file a motion to sever the cases since he had not yet received any discovery from prosecutors as of Thursday.

Both Ehrlick and Jenkins are being held in the Ada County Jail and appeared in court Thursday shackled and dressed in jail uniforms.

Both answered Williamson's questions with simple "yes" and "no" answers, as family members and friends of both suspects and Robert Manwill watched from the courtroom.

Ehrlick initially said he did not understand his speedy trial rights but later said he did after talking to public defender Gus Cahill.

Family members left the courtroom without comment Thursday.

Jenkins and Ehrlick were indicted and charged with first-degree murder by an Ada County grand jury Aug. 18.

The grand jury found that 8-year-old Robert Manwill was beaten by Ehrlick for weeks in a pattern of "escalating physical violence" that finally climaxed in his death, according to court records.

Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg said the boy died from blunt force trauma "on or about" the July 24 — the night he was reported missing. That report triggered a community-wide search for Robert Manwill that ended about two weeks later when his body was found in the New York Canal near Kuna.

Ehrlicks’s violence against the boy started as early as June, according to the grand jury indictment, which also says Jenkins "did actively and repeatedly hide (Robert) from government authorities" and kept "other persons from observing the ongoing harm" Ehrlick was doing to the boy.

The grand jury said Ehrlick repeatedly abused Robert and eventually killed the boy by the "intentional application of torture ... by inflicting extreme or prolonged pain with the intent to cause suffering, to execute vengeance, or to satisfy some sadistic inclination, by inflicting repeated acts ofblunt force trauma to the abdomen and/or head of Robert Manwill."

The grand jury also found that Jenkins continued to leave Robert with Ehrlick despite the knowledge that he was "inflicting repeated acts of physical violence" on the boy, and that Jenkins lied to police about Robert's whereabouts after she knew he was dead.

Ada County prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek the death penalty against Jenkins and/or Ehrlick.

They have a little more than a month left to make that decision.

Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower said last month much of the decision will depend on what kind of mitigating evidence defense attorneys provide to prosecutors as they swap discovery on the case.

The entry of plea hearings for Jenkins and Ehrlick were originally set Tuesday but were later rescheduled when 4th District Judge Deborah Bail, who was originally given the case, disqualified herself in late August.

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