Local News

Defense Attorney: Odds Stacked Against Petrick

Posted November 6, 2005 2:01 a.m. EST

— Every morning, correctional officers at Raleigh's Central Prison wake up Robert Petrick at about 2:30 a.m. After Petrick gathers the materials he needs for his own murder trial, officers place him in a van and transport him to the Durham County Courthouse.

Once Petrick arrives, at about 9 a.m., he changes into a suit, slips on his wedding ring and takes over the role as defense attorney.

Petrick, who is currently serving an 11-year sentence for fraud, is defending himself against accusations that he killed his wife, Janine Sutphen, in 2003. Sutphen, a cellist for the Durham Symphony, disappeared in January 2003.

Four months later, fishermen found Sutphen's body floating in Falls Lake in Raleigh. She had been tied up in chains, wrapped in blankets and bound in duct tape. Her body was swollen from the months under water, authorities said.

In July 2005, Petrick told a judge that he and his court-appointed attorney, Mark Edwards, disagreed on legal issues, did not get along and could not effectively work together. Petrick fired Edwards and is now relying on himself to avoid a life sentence in prison.

Edwards, who by law must be in the courtroom in case Petrick needs help, said the odds are stacked against the defendant.

"He doesn't have a law library, no access to the computer, and can't type motions," Edwards said.

Petrick filed a motion in September to delay the trial so that he could have additional time to prepare his case, even though a judge warned him in July that the trial would not be delayed.

According to court documents, Petrick also claimed he had not been given the resources to prepare. State prison rules prohibit his access to computers and the Internet and most of the other tools he needed to prepare for his defense. The judge, however, ordered the state to buy Petrick a set of legal books and to give him copies of search warrants that the prosecution is using as evidence.

"Everyone thinks because they see it on TV, they can (represent themselves in court). You can't," Edwards said. "It's difficult doing it yourself, and I think he's finding that out."

During pre-trial motions last week, Petrick asked Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson to ban television cameras from the courtroom, but Hudson denied the request.

"I'd prefer there be no cameras," Petrick told Hudson. "I am, as you are well aware, a novice at this and it's going to be difficult enough to prepare my defense without feeling like I'm performing for a media circus."

Petrick could appeal if the jury finds him guilty; one likely argument could be ineffective counsel.

With opening statements set to begin Monday at 10 a.m., Hudson dismissed a juror Friday after the woman told him she has a hearing problem. One of the four alternate jurors will take her place.