An eastern Arizona court erred when it dismissed murder and other charges against a man who authorities linked to the deaths of two people, the state appellate court ruled in sending the case back to a lower court for a trial on the merits.
The case against Joseph Roberts was dropped with prejudice earlier this year after an Apache County judge ruled that investigators for the county attorney's office violated Roberts' rights by pulling him from his jail cell and discussing a plea deal with him without legal representation. Roberts had been accused of murder, and concealing and mutilating a human body in connection with the deaths of two men near St. Johns.
The Apache County attorney's office was disqualified from the case, and Maricopa County took over.
The prosecution argued on appeal that Roberts lied to and misled the judge when he claimed his confidence in his attorney was shattered following the February 2010 interview. Suppressing evidence from the nine-minute interview in which Roberts made no incriminating statements ahead of a preliminary hearing would have been the appropriate remedy, not dismissing the charges, the prosecution argued.
The appellate court found nothing in the record that showed disagreement or genuine discord between Roberts and his attorney, and said nothing stands in the way of a trial on the merits of the case. The dismissal was reversed, and the case was sent back to Apache County.
"The trial court's findings do not reflect a consideration of the state's interest or of the victims' interest with respect to dismissal," the appellate court wrote in a ruling last week.
"While the public's interest was indeed disserved by Apache County's misconduct, its interest was further disserved by the trial court's dismissal of all charges with prejudice."
Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the Maricopa County attorney's office, said the office is reviewing the decision and hasn't decided on its next move.
Roberts' attorney, David Martin, did not immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The deadline to seek reconsideration from the appellate court is Dec. 21 and review from the state Supreme Court is Jan. 5.
The appeals court slammed the Apache County attorney's office in its ruling, saying it was appalled by the office's deliberate and brazen conduct in interfering with Roberts' right to counsel at a critical stage. But it said no harm resulted because Roberts' attorney was able to address the violation and preserve the integrity of the court proceedings.
Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting and his former chief deputy, Martin Brannan, later became subjects of a state bar complaint because of the interview. Whiting was given an informal reprimand.
Roberts had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the April 2007 shooting death of William "Stoney" McCarragher, 72, on his ranch outside St. Johns.
Roberts also was charged with concealing a dead body, tampering with evidence, hindering prosecution and mutilating a human body in the death of Daniel Achten, 60, nearly two years later.
Achten was missing for two months before his remains were discovered in a shallow grave on his rural property outside St. Johns.
Prosecutors said Roberts and a friend, William Inmon, simultaneously shot McCarragher through his bedroom window with .22-caliber rifles. They contend Inmon recruited Roberts to help dispose of Achten's body because he was too heavy.
Inmon pleaded guilty in the deaths of McCarragher, Achten and 16-year-old Ricky Flores as part of a deal to spare him from the death penalty. He is serving a 24-year prison sentence.
Follow This Story: