Special Reports

Prosecutors won't seek the death penalty in the Robert Manwill murder case

Robert Manwill
Robert Manwill Photo provided by Boise Police

Ada County prosecutors used all 60 days they had before announcing Friday they would not seek the execution of first-degree murder suspects Daniel Ehrlick and Melissa Jenkins - and they didn't say much to explain why.

Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower declined to define "the many legal and factual reasons" why he is not seeking the death penalty, saying he didn't want to say anything that could "prejudice the verdict" in one of the most high-profile crimes in years.

Bower said in August - when Jenkins and Ehrlick were indicted by a grand jury in the death of her son, Robert Manwill - that much of the decision on whether to pursue the death penalty would depend on what kind of mitigating evidence defense attorneys provided to prosecutors.

It is the prosecutor's job to determine whether aggravating factors exist for a jury to sentence someone to death - for instance, whether 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, such as if the defendant suffers from mental illness or was a victim of child abuse.

Prosecutors say Ehrlick beat Jenkins' son in a pattern of "escalating physical violence" that ended in Robert's death "on or about" July 24.

That was the day the boy was reported missing, sparking a week-long community search effort that drew more than 2,300 volunteers, the FBI and national attention, and sparked daily press conferences by the Boise police.

Both Jenkins and Ehrlick are accused of misleading Boise police for almost two weeks.

Ada County is the only county in Idaho where a jury has issued a death sentence since the U.S. Supreme Court determined in 2003 that juries, not judges, must make that decision.

Since then, Ada County prosecutors have sought the death penalty for four suspects, with juries deciding to sentence to death convicted killers Azad Abdullah and Erick Hall.

But a death sentence does not usually mean an execution in Idaho.

The state has executed only one person since reinstating the death penalty in 1977 - double murderer Keith Eugene Wells, who dropped all his appeals and demanded a lethal injection in 1994.

Every other person on Idaho's death row - currently 17 prisoners - has successfully fought execution, including Lacey Sivak, who was sentenced to death in 1981.

The next hearing for Ehrlick and Jenkins is set for Nov. 5 before 4th District Judge Darla Williamson. A trial date likely will be set for some time next year. The trial is expected to last a month or more.

Patrick Orr: 373-6619