Murder Suspect Loses In Motion

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A Glouster man facing murder charges in the death of his father had a motion denied that involved a previous plea agreement with the Athens County Prosecutor's Office.

Paul J. Roberts, 40, of 68 Locust Street, was indicted in late October on charges of aggravated murder, murder, gross abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence, intimidation of an attorney, victim or witness in a criminal case, grand theft of a vehicle, theft, theft of an elderly person or disabled adult and vandalism. All counts are felony offenses.

He is accused of murdering his father, Paul E. Roberts, hiding the body under the porch of the Locust Street residence, and stealing his father's 2004 Jeep Liberty, a John Deere riding lawnmower and his father's credit card. He was also indicted for a prior felony charge, acts involving certificates of title.

The younger Roberts had agreed to a plea deal with the prosecution prior to being arrested in connection with the murder in cases of identity theft, drug possession, forgery and grand theft of a motor vehicle. The prosecution had recommended a sentence of five years of community control.

At Paul J. Roberts' arraignment hearing in early November, his attorney, James Wallace, argued a motion to enforce a plea agreement or allow his client to withdraw his guilty pleas.

“Plea agreements are governed by the principles of contract law,” Wallace wrote in his November motion. “When the state fails to live up to its end of a plea bargain, the defendant is entitled to the remedy of either specific performance of the plea agreement or withdrawal of the plea.”

Assistant County Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Pepper argued that being a law-abiding citizen was implied within the agreement and that Roberts had violated "an inherent principle" of the agreement.
Wallace argued that there was nothing in the plea agreement that said the state could simply withdraw their plea agreement.

Judge L. Alan Goldsberry filed a judgment entry on Tuesday disagreeing with the argument.

It is true that the plea deal has no specific statement allowing the state to withdraw the sentencing recommendation, Goldsberry wrote in the entry, "there is the authority to allow the prosecutor to change its recommendations in the face of the defendant failing to cooperate with the process … and in this case there were two of those failures."

The judge specifically listed "failing to appear for interviews for pre-sentence investigation appointments" as the failures in Roberts' case.

The court had not explained to Roberts that the judge was not required to follow the recommendations of the prosecutor, a review of the transcript showed. But Goldsberry stated it was the court's "expectation" that Wallace advised his client about that before the plea agreement was signed.

The issue was also written into the plea agreement, the judge wrote.

Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said the decision was "appropriate" and could have a positive effect on the murder case, should it go to trial.

"If (Roberts) were to testify, these (cases) could be used in questioning his credibility," Blackburn said.

Roberts is scheduled to be sentenced in the cases on Dec. 17. A jury trial is scheduled for the same day in the murder cases, but is not expected to occur.