By Linda Kor —
A young Eagar man accused of assisting a self-proclaimed serial killer has been set free by Apache County Superior Court Judge Donna Grimsley after his attorney claimed that his client’s rights were violated by investigators with the Apache County Attorneys Office.
Grimsley released 23-year-old Joseph Roberts on Jan. 19, stating that an intrusion to the attorney-client relationship took place when investigators Brian Hounshell and Jerry Jaramillo met with Roberts at the jail in February 2010 without the presence of legal counsel.
“Judge Grimsley’s decision to release a defendant, who was being held on first degree murder, has re-victimized the victims. These actions may place the citizens of Apache County and surrounding areas in danger,” stated Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting.
Roberts, along with Springerville resident William Inmon, was accused of taking part in the 2007 murder of William “Stoney” McCarragher. Inmon also confessed to the murders of Daniel Achten in 2009 and 16-year-old Ricky Flores in 2009, and claimed that if he hadn’t been caught, he would have killed again.
Roberts was charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy, theft of a means of transportation, mutilating a human body, concealment of a dead body, tampering with physical evidence and hindering prosecution relating to the murders of both McCarragher and Achten.
After Roberts arrest, Hounshell and Jaramillo received permission from Whiting to meet with Roberts, but did not notify his legal counsel. During the meeting, Hounshell reportedly told Roberts that he was there to explain some things about the court prior to his preliminary hearing, which was scheduled the following day. Hounshell then went on to tell Roberts that he had the option to waive the hearing for a reduced sentence and that if he didn’t, it would “likely be a harder road” for him.
During the course of the conversation Hounshell referenced the death penalty six times, in one instance telling Roberts, “…What I mean by that is, right now they’ve made some offers to you about doing 25 years, not getting a life sentence. This could be possibly handed down by a judge if you are convicted. That we are not going to seek a death penalty against you.”
Grimsley noted in her ruling that the offer that had been made to Roberts was substantially different than what Hounshell described and called into question the state’s motives. Hounshell also made references to Roberts’ wife being charged for hindering prosecution in the case if he did not waive the preliminary hearing.
In her ruling dismissing the case, Grimsley wrote that she was appalled by the outrageous and unethical behavior of the Apache County Attorney’s Office in allowing the investigators to meet with Roberts.
“The court is of the view that the flagrant and manipulative subversion of the Sixth Amendment constitutional rights in this case trumps all other considerations and that dismissal is the only remedy that will preserve the defendant’s inviolable constitutional rights,” Grimsley wrote.
In her ruling the judge also wrote, “The court finds that the damage done to the attorney-client relationship is prejudicial and irreparable, even if new counsel is appointed as defendant’s trust in the system has been betrayed.” Grimsley also dismissed the charges with prejudice, meaning that Roberts cannot be retried for the same crimes again.
In July Grimsley disqualified the county attorney’s office from prosecuting Roberts after she was made aware of the interview conducted by the investigators. Deputy County Attorney John Beatty of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office was assigned the case, and is presently considering whether to appeal Judge Grimsley’s dismissal or seek a special action in the Court of Appeals, The action could take five to six months, and during that time the defendant would remain a free man.