Special Reports

Melissa Jenkins attorneys say she may perjure herself if forced to testify against boyfriend in Manwill murder trial

Prosecutors are trying to force Melissa Jenkins to testify against co-defendant Daniel Ehrlick for the murder of Robert Manwill last summer.
Prosecutors are trying to force Melissa Jenkins to testify against co-defendant Daniel Ehrlick for the murder of Robert Manwill last summer. Katherine Jones/Idaho Statesman

The lawyers for Melissa Jenkins say she is too untrustworthy to be forced totestify against former boyfriend and co-defendant Daniel Ehrlick in hisupcoming murder trial for the beating death of Robert Manwill last summer.

Jenkins’ lawyers told 4th District Judge Darla Williamson Thursday thatJenkins is a “self-admitted and diagnosed compulsive liar” and will besetting herself up for a perjury charge if she doesn’t corroborate somestatements she made to Boise police and others during the Robert Manwillmurder investigation.

They also say whatever Jenkins does say in Ehrlick's trial will make iteven harder for her to get a fair trial later this year due to intense mediacoverage of the case.

Jenkins, Manwill’s mother, is also charged with first degree murder. Jenkinsis accused of knowing her 8-year-old son was beaten for weeks by Ehrlick ina pattern of “escalating physical violence” that climaxed in a severe andultimately fatal head injury - and that she did nothing to stop it.

Court testimony and documents have revealed Jenkins made incriminatingstatements about Ehrlick to police investigators during the investigation -and it appears prosecutors want her to testify about those statements duringEhrlick’s jury trial.

Prosecutors say they can compel Jenkins to testify by offering “derivativeuse immunity” - which allows her to testify against Ehrlick with thestipulation that whatever prosecutors learn from that testimony can’t beused against Jenkins in her own trial.

Defense attorney Rob Chastain said that isn’t fair to Jenkins because shewill likely lie and commit perjury, which would allow prosecutors to chargeher with another crime. In their brief to the court, Jenkins attorneysclaim she lies “95 percent of the time,” according to court testimony.

“I don’t think there is any way the court can assured she will give reliabletestimony,” Chastain told Williamson Thursday.

Chastain also said prosecutors “cherry picked” the statements Jenkins madeto police and others that supported their case and ignored contradictorystatements she made to others.

Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Dan Dinger told Williamson they plan to askJenkins only about statements she made which can be corroborated by otherwitnesses - like how Manwill appeared to be injured and need of medical helpthe day he went missing and later determined to have died.

Dinger also said the intent to get Jenkins to testify against Ehrlick is notto charge her with perjury, but to get to the truth about what happened toher son.

“We are certainly not looking to backdoor (any evidence) into her trial,”Dinger said. “The state only wants to present reliable testimony.”

Dinger dismissed the “cherry picking” claim, saying cross-examination aboutwhat Jenkins would testify to would ferret out how truthful her statementsto police were.

“We are simply asking her to come in and testify truthfully,” he said.“(Jenkins) has absolute control whether she testifies truthfully or not.”

Chastain also said he considers Jenkins a victim in the murder of her sonand thus should be allowed to attend Ehrlick’s trial - which would beproblematic since witnesses are generally not allowed to attend trials.

Williamson said she doubted she would allow that whether Jenkins testifies or notand pointed out defense attorneys have not filed a motion asking for thataccess.

Prosecutors say federal case law clearly allows for derivative use immunityand defense arguments do not apply that law.

Williamson, who appeared to be skeptical of Jenkins’ attorneys' arguments,said she would file a written decision on the motion.

Jury selection for Ehrlick’s trial is set to begin in late September.Jenkins’ trial is scheduled to begin in November.

Williamson has said numerous times she expects no further delays in thetrials and has kept strict deadlines to keep the trial on track.

Defense attorneys filed a motion to change venue for both trials, saying theintense media exposure about the case since last summer will make itimpossible to pick a fair and unbiased jury.

Williamson said she wants to try to select an Ada County jury first beforefiguring out if the trial needs to be moved.

Prosecutors say Ehrlick beat Jenkins' son in a pattern of "escalatingphysical violence" that ended in Robert's death "on or about" July 24 - theday the boy was reported missing and the start of a community search effortthat drew more than 2,300 volunteers, the FBI and national attention, andthat sparked daily press conferences by the Boise police.

Both Jenkins and Ehrlick are accused of misleading Boise police for almosttwo weeks before Robert's body was found in an irrigation canal near Kunaalmost two weeks later.

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