A Santa Ana man who spent nine months in jail on charges of murdering a girlfriend's 2-year-old son was finally cleared of all charges Thursday after three trials and a five-year ordeal.
Superior Court Judge James K. Turner said that "in the interest of justice" he was dismissing the remaining count of involuntary manslaughter against Darrell Roberts, 32.
"This young man has sweated this thing out long enough," the judge said.
Roberts' grandmother, Virgie Kennedy, waved her arms when she heard the news just outside the courtroom.
"Thank you, Jesus," she shouted.
Deadlocked on Manslaughter Count
Roberts was acquitted of second-degree murder last Friday in the August, 1981, death of Julius Caesar Mathis III, whom he was baby-sitting while the child's mother was at work. But the jurors deadlocked 8 to 4 in favor of acquitting him on involuntary manslaughter charges.
Roberts' first trial ended in a mistrial in 1983, with the jury deadlocked 9 to 3 in favor of his acquittal. A mistrial was declared at a second trial last summer after a pathologist told the court that some of the evidence had been misplaced.
Roberts and one of his attorneys, Milton Grimes, dangled victory cigars from their fingers as they talked about the case Thursday.
Roberts said that he is relieved to be cleared but that the greatest emotional release came last Friday when he heard the jury's decision.
"That was graduation," Roberts said. "Today, the judge just handed me the diploma."
It was publicity over the mishandling of evidence in the Roberts case that led to a demotion for Dr. Walter Fischer, a county contract pathologist. Fischer committed suicide last July while Superior Court Judge David O. Carter was still evaluating whether to grant Grimes' motion to dismiss the charges because of the missing evidence.
Fischer had testified at Roberts' first trial that the child probably suffered fatal injuries within a few hours before he was taken to the hospital, which was when the child was in Roberts' care. Fischer based his opinion on examination of tissue slides taken from the child's organs.
But before a jury was selected at the second trial, Fischer informed Judge Carter that he had found more tissue slides from the child in a shoe box, which he had inadvertently not made available at the first trial.
Mistake Not Significant Enough
Carter eventually decided that Fischer's mistake was not significant enough to dismiss the charges. But both he and Judge Turner, who took over the case, agreed to let Roberts' attorneys make an issue of it at the latest trial.
At that trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Franklin L. Carroll brought in three outside medical experts who supported Fischer's findings about the time of death. But Roberts' attorneys produced their own medical experts who, using Fischer's original work, found that the injuries could have been inflicted up to a week before the death.
The Roberts case has included so many pretrial motions that Roberts, who has been free on bail after serving nine months in the Orange County Jail, became something of a fixture at the courthouse. And on most of the days that Roberts had to appear in court, he was surrounded by half a dozen family members.
"I just thank the Lord," said his mother, Marcelle Roberts. "I have known all along my son was innocent; not because he is my son, but because I know how he is with children. He loved that child."