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Murder Conviction Overturned


A woman who was convinced to plead guilty to murdering her girlfriend in 2004 may not be the killer and will either be retried or set free.  U.S. District Judge Malcolm Marsh reported that new scientific evidence might reveal that Lisa Marie Roberts did not strangle Jerri Lee Williams.

In May 2002, The naked body of Jerri Lee Williams was found near the parking lot at Kelley Point Park. Multnomah County prosecutors chose Ms. Williams’ girlfriend, Ms. Roberts as their prime suspect. Police believed that Roberts strangled Williams to death and dumped her body at the park around 10:30am. The evidence against Roberts included some conflicting statements about the last time she had seen Williams, some inconclusive DNA evidence, and a phone call placed by Roberts that bounced off a cell tower near Kelly Point Park. Had she gone to trial, Roberts would likely not have been convicted, as the evidence against her was mainly circumstantial.

Just before Roberts was supposed to go to trial, prosecutor Rod Underhill told Roberts’ attorney about cell phone evidence he was going to use against her. He claimed that the data would show her to have been near the park and that the information would show which direction the call came from. Due to this new evidence Roberts’ attorney advised her to plead guilty. Unfortunately for Ms. Roberts, as usual, the prosecution did not play by the rules. According to technical experts hired for Roberts’ federal appeal case, cell phone tower data cannot pinpoint a person’s location or the direction from which the call is being made. It seems clear that the prosecution, lacking any real chance to win at trial, embellished their evidence to Roberts’ attorney. Had they gone to trial Roberts would likely have won, saving her from almost ten years in prison.

In light of the new cell phone and DNA evidence, Judge Marsh overturned Roberts’ conviction. The State now has to decide whether or not to retry Roberts; they have 90 days to do so.

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