Local News

Trial For Durham Man Accused Of Killing Wife Gets Off To Slow Start

Posted October 31, 2005

— The trial for a Durham man accused of killing his wife two years ago was supposed to begin at 10 a.m. Monday, but there was a delay.

Robert Petrick, who is currently at Central Prison, was not brought to the Durham County courthouse for his trial.

Police arrested Petrick in 2003 for the death of his wife, Janine Sutphen, who was found wrapped in a tarp, tied in duct tape and floating in Falls Lakes. The medical examiner concluded she had been suffocated and wrapped in sleeping bags with her legs chained.

Petrick, who is representing himself, is expected to argue in pre-trial motions that evidence about his sexuality and pagan beliefs be kept out of the trial. He is also expected to challenge the credibility of the lead investigator in the case, Terry Mikels.

On July 5, 2005, Petrick told a judge that he and his court-appointed lawyer, Mark Edwards, disagreed on legal issues and did not get along.

"The relationship has broken down and we can't work together effectively," Petrick told the judge.

Sutphen, 57, a cellist with the Durham Symphony, was reported missing by her husband Jan. 22, 2003 after she failed to show up for a rehearsal. Police later found her car, along with her keys and cello, inside a downtown Durham parking garage across the street from where rehearsal had been held.

Petrick told police he was at a pub until about 9:30 p.m. the night Sutphen disappeared. Police said, however, that the times he gave them "were not consistent" with accounts from other customers.

According to a search warrant, Durham police seized several items from the couple's townhouse over a five-day search, including several gloves, knives, saws, a shovel, a bolt cutter and duct tape, as well as bed sheets, cameras, film, seven computers, two whips and Petrick's car. Police also removed a videotape of a 1938 Alfred Hitchcock movie about a woman who is kidnapped.

In late May 2003, the Wake County Sheriff's Office said two fishermen came across Sutphen's body near the Cheek Road Bridge at Falls Lake. Hours after her body was found, Petrick was charged with murder in the death of his wife.

In a jailhouse interview, Petrick told WRAL that he did not kill his wife. Friends who knew the couple said Petrick seemed to be a caring husband.

Petrick is currently serving a prison sentence for a fraud conviction. Prosecutors and police say that conviction is connected to the murder charge, but they have not said how.

If Petrick is convicted of first-degree murder, he would face the possibility of life in prison. The district attorney's office is not seeking the death penalty.

When the trial begins, potential jurors will have to fill out a questionnaire to gauge their knowledge of the case. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

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