Local News

Robert Petrick Found Guilty In Wife's 2003 Death

Posted November 29, 2005
Updated December 10, 2006

— After just a little more than two hours of deliberation, a jury unanimously found Robert Petrick guilty of first-degree murder in the 2003 death of his wife, Janine Sutphen.

The jury began deliberations shortly after 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. At about 4:45 p.m., they returned to the courtroom with the verdict.

Sutphen, 57 at the time of her disappearance in January 2003, was found four months later, her body wrapped in a tarp and blankets, floating in Raleigh's Falls Lake.

Both jurors and family members showed a lot of emotion in the courtroom after the verdict. Jurors did not want to talk, but several were seen hugging and crying.

Members of Sutphen's family, also very emotional, said they had waited for the verdict for a long time and that it finally gave them a huge sense of relief.

"I'm glad to say it's over," said Sutphen's son, Christopher Sutphen. "I think the wheels of justice, as slow as we may have thought they were, prevailed today. I think we did our mom a great honor today. We've served her spirit well."

Sons and friends said the last few years had been emotionally trying.

Witnesses, including Sutphen's sons, testified during the trial that Petrick repeatedly gave them excuses why they could not talk to Sutphen when they called for her in January 2003.

Sutphen was last seen alive in early January. On Jan. 21, another of her sons, Robin Sutphen, left a message on Petrick's answering machine, telling him that he wanted to speak to his mother. If not, he said he was going to go to Durham to find out what was wrong.

One day later, on Jan. 22, Petrick reported his wife missing.

Robin Suthpen, who testified during the trial that he suspected his stepfather from the beginning, said Tuesday that a life sentence will prevent Petrick from hurting anyone else.

"It really bothers me, the fact that evil like that exists in the world," he said.

During closing statements Tuesday morning, Petrick, who represented himself, admitted prosecutors had proved certain points, but said they failed to prove he murdered his wife, reminding jurors there was no physical evidence directly linking him to her death.

"Frankly, if this was a trial for adultery and financial misdeeds, I wouldn't even be standing here right now," Petrick told jurors during his closing statement. "But it's not, it's a trial for first-degree murder."

During the trial testimony, which lasted about two weeks, the prosecution called more than 60 witnesses to support its claims that money problems and extramarital affairs were motives for Sutphen's death -- including a computer expert that testified about evidence from computers seized from Petrick's home, a cadaver dog handler, Petrick's former girlfriends and acquaintances, as well as Durham police investigators.

The defense called just four witnesses to testify.

Petrick, who is already serving an 11-year sentence for a fraud conviction, will serve a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.

He gave an automatic notice of appeal and told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson that he wants a court-appointed attorney for the appeal.

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