Special Reports

Defense says Melissa Jenkins would lie on the stand in her son Robert Manwill's murder case

The woman charged with first-degree murder in the death of her 8-year-old son Robert Manwill is a "self-admitted and diagnosed compulsive liar," her defense attorneys say.

If Melissa Jenkins is forced to testify against her former boyfriend and co-defendant, Daniel Ehrlick, she will be setting herself up for a perjury charge - if she doesn't corroborate statements she made to Boise police and others about Ehrlick in the murder investigation - her defenders told 4th District Judge Darla Williamson Thursday.

They also claim whatever Jenkins might say in Ehrlick's trial will make it even harder for her to get a fair trial later this year due to intense media coverage of the case.

Both are charged with first-degree murder. Jenkins is accused of knowing that her son was beaten for weeks by Ehrlick in a pattern of "escalating physical violence" that climaxed in a severe and ultimately fatal head injury - and that she did nothing to stop it.

The boy's disappearance sparked a communitywide search that ended in grief when his battered body was found near Kuna in an irrigation canal.

Court records indicate that Jenkins' statements to police that Ehrlick was abusive toward Robert could be a major part of the prosecution case against both suspects.

Court documents obtained by the Statesman this week detail testimony from the grand jury hearing in which the two were indicted. Among the accusations cited in the documents:

® That the 260-pound Ehrlick dropped his knee on the chest of the 66-pound Robert while the boy was forced to lie motionless on the ground in a discipline the couple called "dead bugging."

® That Ehrlick hit the boy with a piece of wooden molding so hard it may have left an internal bruise for weeks.

® That Jenkins told police that Ehrlick "hates" Robert and that she "allowed" Ehrlick to beat her child.

Prosecutors say they can compel Jenkins to testify by offering "derivative use immunity" - which allows her to testify against Ehrlick with the stipulation that whatever prosecutors learn from that testimony can't be used against Jenkins in her own trial.

Defense attorney Rob Chastain said that isn't fair to Jenkins because she will likely lie and commit perjury.

"I don't think there is any way the court can be assured she will give reliable testimony," Chastain told Williamson on Thursday.

Chastain also said prosecutors "cherry-picked" the statements Jenkins made to police and others that supported their case against her and Ehrlick and ignored contradictory statements she made to others.

Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Dan Dinger told Williamson they plan to ask Jenkins only about statements she made which can be corroborated by other witnesses - such as how Robert appeared to be injured and in need of medical help the day he went missing.

Court documents revealed this week that the boy was suffering from multiple pains that morning - in his head, chest, stomach and back - and his complaints coincided with the appearance of a large hole in the sheetrock of the family's apartment.

"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 about what Jenkins would testify to would ferret out how truthful her statements to 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."

Patrick Orr: 373-6619