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Attorney: Court Erred in Allowing Petrick to Represent Self

Posted October 10, 2007

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Editor's Note: WRAL.com erroneously reported the state Court of Appeals would hold a hearing about a fraud plea involving Robert Petrick. The hearing deals with a murder conviction. WRAL.com regrets the error.

An attorney for a Durham man serving a life sentence for the death of his wife told the said Wednesday his client deserves a new trial because he wasn't given all the information he needed before deciding to represent himself.

"He was never told by the judge that there was another option," Robert Petrick's attorney, Mark Montgomery told the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Petrick, 55, chose to serve as his own defense counsel for his 2005 murder trial after he and his court-appointed attorney, Mark Edwards, failed to agree on a defense strategy.

Montgomery argued that the presiding judge neglected to inform Petrick of all his options: to have a court-appointed attorney, to defend himself or to have the court order Edwards to defend Petrick using his own defense strategy.

But John Barnwell with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, argued Petrick knew what he was doing.

"You can't read this (court) transcript and not come away with the impression that this defendant had a very high regard for his own intelligence and thought that he could manage his defense better than any appointed – Mr. Edwards," Barnwell said.

Before Petrick's murder trial, Petrick and Edwards disagreed on legal issues. Petrick later chose to represent himself during his trial.

Petrick reported his wife, Janine Sutphen, a Durham Symphony cellist, missing on Jan. 22, 2003. Several months later, fishermen found her body, wrapped in a tarp and tied in duct tape, floating in Raleigh's Falls Lake.

Authorities said Sutphen was suffocated and wrapped in sleeping bags with her legs chained.

On Nov. 29, 2005, Petrick, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Montgomery also argued Wednesday that testimony involving a cadaver dog's handler should not have been allowed in Petrick's trial, saying the information was not reliable.

The handler testified that the dog detected the scent of human remains in the trunk of Petrick's car and inside his house.

Prosecutors suggested Sutphen's body was in the couple's home for a period of time before it was dumped in the lake.

53 Comments

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  • pleshy Oct 12, 2007

    The court system is not about whether you are guilty or innocent, it is about presenting facts allowing a jury to decide what the facts are from a myriad of sources and stories, most of which conflict with each other and with themselves. It is also about making sure the government did not use their tremendous investigative and prosecutorial power improperly. No one cares about this stuff until it is their hide on the line, so you can all berate me if you want. Defense attorneys have two jobs - make sure the evidence presented to the jury is properly before the court (legally obtained and admissible) and make sure the judge amkes the correct legal decisions as to the facts and procedure. The jury decides what is fact. The judge provides the law. If the jury decides the facts match the law then the verdict is what it is. A defense attorney doesn't need or generally even want to know if the client did the deed. It is often irrelevent to the defense anyway.

  • FragmentFour Oct 11, 2007

    As a general rule, I tend to opt for giving the defendant the benefit of doubt - but not in this case. He was warned - and knew - all the dangers of acting as his own attorney. Like many of the other posters here, I think he's playing this as a secondary defense strategy. No dice.

  • lynddsy Oct 10, 2007

    this is bunk! he was certainly told upon arrest he could have a court appointed attorney! if not he would have been raising sand before this.

  • msncdso Oct 10, 2007

    ...and who didn't know this was the plan all along.

  • djofraleigh Oct 10, 2007

    Truly, a life for a life.

  • djofraleigh Oct 10, 2007

    Who is responsible? When is the defendant responsible? Why didn't the defense attorney inform his client upon being discharged? Why can't the defendant NOW sue his attorney for not telling him?

    Someday, science will allow a murderer to declare in court that they would give their own life if it would bring back the victim, AND MAKE IT HAPPEN.

  • yeahright2 Oct 10, 2007

    The court erred in not sentencing this man to death immediately.

  • clickclackity2 Oct 10, 2007

    Definitely a scum bag attorney...why doesn't he try to help someone that may actually be innocent.

  • bfbnyc Oct 10, 2007

    MIRANDA "YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY. If you cannot afford one the court will appoint one. Seems clear to me!

  • floyd_lawson Oct 10, 2007

    If he would have got off on a technicality would they bring this up? They need to stop wasting our money on these frivolous cases when the convict loses.

    I'm sure the defense strategy he wouldn't agree on was a plea deal because the evidence against him was insurmountable. The murderer wants to find a loophole. This is not fair to the victim’s family after all they went through with her at the bottom of Falls Lake because of him.

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