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Opening arguments expected today in final Morehouse murder trial

Photo by Curt Yeomans
Keith Jerome Roberts was in a Clayton County Superior Courtroom Monday, awaiting the beginning of his trial for allegedly participating in the 2006 murder of Morehouse College student Carlnell Walker. Opening arguments in the trial are expected to take place on Tuesday.

Photo by Curt Yeomans Keith Jerome Roberts was in a Clayton County Superior Courtroom Monday, awaiting the beginning of his trial for allegedly participating in the 2006 murder of Morehouse College student Carlnell Walker. Opening arguments in the trial are expected to take place on Tuesday.

An Atlanta man accused of participating in the June 2006 murder of a Morehouse College student quietly acknowledged the situation he is facing in a polite, soft-spoken voice, as his case prepares to go to trial.

Keith Jerome Roberts, 28, is facing 13 counts — three counts of felony murder, one count of malice murder, three counts of aggravated assault, two counts of burglary, one count of aggravated battery, one count of kidnapping, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of armed robbery.

The charges stem from the death of Carlnell Walker, who was tied up, stabbed, beaten with a hammer, had a flammable fluid poured on him, and stuffed in the trunk of a car at his Riverdale home, during a burglary nearly five years ago. He died of hyperthermia in the car trunk.

Roberts is one of four men who were charged in connection with Walker’s death, and he is the only defendant who has not yet been tried, or pleaded to a lesser charge. He had been offered a plea deal where he would only have to plead guilty to felony murder and receive a life sentence in jail, while the other charges were dropped. He politely turned it down, and said he wanted a trial, however.

“There’s a possibility, if you are found guilty of everything, of three life sentences in prison, which could run concurrently, or consecutively,” Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield warned him after he announced his decision. “Do you understand that, sir?”

He responded with a meek, barely audible, “Yes, your honor.”

Jury selection took place for nearly four hours on Monday afternoon, and is expected to continue Tuesday, at 9 a.m. Opening arguments are expected to begin afterward. The trial is expected to move swiftly for a murder trial, with potential jurors being told Monday to expect to last up to just one week.

Executive Assistant District Attorney Jason Green told Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield, before jury selection began, that he plans to call 10 witnesses, and expects to finish presenting the state’s case on Wednesday. Defense attorney Dwight L. Thomas said he plans to only call “one witness, definitely, possibly two.” He told a reporter earlier in the day that he is not sure if Roberts will testify.

Magistrate and Superior Court records show Roberts allegedly participated in a burglary at Walker’s home, along with Miles Jonathan Allen, Theodore Paul Holliman and Breylan Wendell Garland, in late June 2006. During the burglary, according to court documents, Walker’s hands were tied behind his back with a cable cord.

He was then stabbed with a knife, and beaten in the head with a hammer, before he was “doused” with a flammable fluid. His captors also allegedly threatened to set him on fire.

Clayton County police said in 2006 and 2007, that Walker’s body was found in the trunk of the car on July 8, 2006, after it had been in the vehicle for approximately two, to three weeks. They also said the time that he was tortured, his head was shaved and he was left for dead, in attempt to rob him of $50,000 he had boasted he was going to receive from a car insurance settlement.

Police additionally said in 2007 that Garland and Allen pointed to Roberts as the alleged “ringleader” of the robbery. Green declined to specify on Monday what role prosecutors feel Roberts played in the murder.

Online court records show Allen was found guilty in August 2009 of malice murder, two counts of aggravated assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and burglary. He was sentenced to two life sentences, plus 70 years in jail, to be served consecutively. Garland was acquitted of all charges against him two months later.

Holliman plead guilty to one of the burglary charges in September 2010, in a negotiated plea, while the other charges against him were dropped. He was given a suspended sentence of 10 years to serve.