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3 Murder Trials Leave Accused ‘in Limbo’

Times Staff Writer

During the four years since he was first arrested and charged with killing his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, Darrell Roberts says, his life has come to a near standstill.

“This has really put it in limbo,” the 32-year-old Santa Ana resident said Tuesday during a break in his third Orange County trial on second-degree murder charges.

“I haven’t been able to hold any sort of a permanent job because I never know when I’m going to have to be back in court. I’ve just always had to do something where the hours can be flexible,” he said.

So far, he said, he has found work managing health clubs and serving as an assistant athletics coach at Santa Ana Valley High School.

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He has had to drop out of college, where he was studying physical education and sociology, and he may have to try again to start a hoped-for career in real estate.

‘Catch Back Up’

“They sent me a notice that I may have to take a test to renew my real estate license,” he said. “I hope it hasn’t lapsed. But it’s close.”

Roberts said he looks forward to “this being over, and when it is, I’ll just have to try to catch back up.”

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Roberts has been through two mistrials. The first time, the jury deadlocked 9 to 3 for acquittal. The second time, a mistrial was declared when the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Julius Caesar Mathis Jr. admitted that evidence had been mishandled.

A jury for the third trial has been selected, and on Tuesday Deputy Dist. Atty. Franklin Carroll and defense attorney Milton Grimes made their opening statements. But the session was interrupted so often by objections that Judge James K. Turner removed the jury from the courtroom while the attorneys hashed out their differences.

Blow to Abdomen

Carroll told the jury that evidence will show that the boy died from a blow to the abdomen and that that injury, as well others to the head, occurred while Roberts was caring for the child and Francine Douglas Montgomery was at work on Aug. 21, 1981.

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Grimes said he will present evidence showing that Montgomery had a history of striking her child to discipline him, and that in a week to 10 days before his death, the boy had fallen out of a bunk bed, run into a coffee table and fallen from his tricycle.

Grimes also said he will refute by medical testimony the prosecution’s claim that the fatal injury occurred sometime in the 6 1/2 hours before the child died.

Following the opening statements, Carroll called Montgomery as his first witness.

In Roberts’ first trial in 1983, the key prosecution testimony concerning the injury and cause of death was presented by pathologist Walter Fischer, who performed autopsies for the county under contract. Fischer said he had based his findings on a study of 36 slides of tissue taken from the boy’s body.

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2nd Mistrial Declared

At the second trial two years later, however, Fischer told the court he had discovered a shoe box full of tissue slides----a second set of 36----which had not been made available to either the prosecution or the defense at the first trial.

A second mistrial was declared, although the judge handling that trial later ruled that Fischer’s mishandling of the laboratory evidence was not sufficient grounds to dismiss the charges against Roberts.

Fischer was found dead in July, 1985, and the county coroner’s office ruled the death a suicide. His business partners said at that time that they believed Fischer was despondent over unfavorable publicity about his work, particularly about his errors in the Roberts case.

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