Photo by Curt Yeomans
Keith Jerome Roberts (right) is on trial this week for allegedly participating in the 2006 murder of Morehouse College student Carlnell Roberts, at his Riverdale-area home.
The question of whether Keith Jerome Roberts was involved in the 2006 torture and murder of Morehouse College student, Carlnell Walker, likely hinges on a fingerprint found on part of an oil lamp at the murder scene.
Roberts, 28, is accused of being part of a group of men who stabbed, tied up, and beat up Walker, cut off his dreadlocks, doused him with lamp oil, and stuffed him in the trunk of an Oldsmobile that was parked in the garage of the victim’s Riverdale-area home.
He 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 indictment against Roberts states that the attack on Walker, and his death, happened sometime between June 21, 2006, and July 8, 2006.
Prosecutors said during Roberts’ trial on Tuesday that smeared blood, cut-off pieces of hair, furniture turned over, displaced mattresses, and Walker’s clothing and credit cards were found scattered on the floor at the murder scene. The scene was spread out across several rooms in the college student’s home.
“Keith Roberts had those fingerprints that were right there in the house, and not just anywhere in the house,” Clayton County Executive Assistant District Attorney Jason Green said. “They were on the globe lamp that was right there in the middle of all that destruction, on the floor.”
How the fingerprint — which defense attorneys argue came from only one finger — got on the globe of the lamp will likely be a key point as the trial continues Wednesday. Green told Roberts’ attorney, Dwight L. Thomas, during a break in the trial that he plans to rest his case on Wednesday.
Thomas said, on Monday, that the only witness he is “definitely” going to call to the stand is a fingerprint expert, who, he asserted, would refute the prosecution’s claims about the print found at the crime scene. On Tuesday, Thomas argued that the fingerprint does not prove Roberts was in Walker’s home when the torture and murder took place.
“You’re not going to hear any evidence, whatsoever, as to the precise date, time or hour that that fingerprint was left on there,” he told jurors during opening arguments. “You are not going to hear any evidence that Keith Roberts, in fact, entered the premises of Carlnell Walker for some criminal purposes June 21, June 22, all the way up to July 8.”
On the trial’s first day, however, the fingerprint issue was left on the back burner as witness testimony began. Witnesses, including a medical examiner for the state of Georgia, the police officer who found Walker’s body, and the lead detective on the case, spent the first afternoon of the trial describing the crime scene and the condition of the victim’s body when an autopsy was performed.
Clayton County Police Detective Chris Helton, who was a patrol officer at the time of the murder, said he and another officer went to Walker’s home on July 8, to perform a welfare check on him, at the request of his mother, who lived in California. He said he found the back door of the home open, and could smell “the stench of what I knew was of a dead body” as he approached the house.
Helton said no lights were turned on in the home, and no air conditioning was turned on. He added that the interior of the home, including the garage was “oven-like hot.” Dr. Keith Leyman, a medical examiner with the state medical examiner’s office, testified earlier that he determined during his autopsy on Walker’s body that “the cause of death was entrapment in the trunk of a car, in a hot environment.”
Helton also explained that “there was a lot of debris on the floor” in the house, and furniture was pushed up against the walls in the living room. “It appeared it [the home] had been searched,” he said.
Detective Stefan Schindler, who was the lead investigator on the case, later described the scene in the house, by explaining “In my opinion, there was one heck of a struggle that happened in that house.”
Prosecutors finished questioning Schindler early Tuesday evening. Thomas is expected to begin cross-examining the detective at 9 a.m., on Wednesday.