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Idaho Department of Health and Welfare now plans external review in the Manwill case

Had a court order been enforced, Robert Manwill wouldn’t have been living in the home where police say he was beaten to death, records obtained by the Statesman show.
Had a court order been enforced, Robert Manwill wouldn’t have been living in the home where police say he was beaten to death, records obtained by the Statesman show.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Richard Armstrong said last year that he was satisfied with an internal review completed shortly after 8-year-old Robert Manwill's death in July 2009.

But for the first time, the department said publicly Thursday it also will seek an independent review of its actions.

Department staff has said no written report has been produced and a more formal review would be conducted as information became available.

The department has repeatedly declined to release any findings from its internal reviews and never indicated an independent study was forthcoming.

"We said there would be another review," said department spokesman Tom Shanahan. "Whenever a child's death arises, there are internal reviews for sure, but now we are talking independent review."

Shanahan would not say when, or specifically why, the decision was made. Such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and evolve over time, he said.

Armstrong told Health and Welfare board members Thursday that his department is holding off on the independent review until after court proceedings are completed for Robert's mother and her ex-boyfriend - Melissa Jenkins and Daniel Ehrlick.

Both are charged with first-degree murder. Jury selection in Ehrlick's trial begins next month.

Investigators for the department could taint witnesses before the trial, Armstrong said.

"After the case we have more perfect information," Armstrong said. "We've done this in other cases over the years. It's an efficient way to get information."

Armstrong's remarks were prompted by a question from Health and Welfare board member Quane Kenyon regarding an Aug. 15 Idaho Statesman report on the red flags missed by the state before Robert's death.

The story cited documents that show:

® Health and Welfare workers or contractors saw that Jenkins was living with Ehrlick and the couple's younger son despite a court order barring her from doing so.

® The case workers who visited the home failed to physically inspect Robert for signs of abuse.

® State welfare workers had received three previous reports regarding Jenkins and her family before removing Robert's infant brother from the home, which came after Jenkins was charged with fracturing his skull.

Because criminal cases are pending against Jenkins and Ehrlick, Armstrong told board members he would not comment on any details of the case.

"I don't want to jeopardize the ability of prosecutors to get a conviction in this case," Armstrong said.

Kathleen Kreller: 377-6418

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