Local News

Attorney: Court Erred in Allowing Petrick to Represent Self

Posted October 10, 2007 5:55 a.m. EDT
Updated October 10, 2007 5:33 p.m. EDT

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.