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Closing arguments expected today in Roberts trial

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.

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.

Testimony and arguments in the trial of an Atlanta man accused of participating in the 2006 murder of a Morehouse College student are expected to wrap up Thursday morning.

Keith Jerome Roberts, 28, has been on trial this week for the murder of Carlnell Walker, who was found dead in the trunk of his Oldsmobile, by Clayton County Police, in the garage of his Riverdale-area home on July 8, 2006.

Prosecutors finished presenting their case against Roberts on Wednesday afternoon, and defense attorneys quickly presented their only two witnesses afterward. The prosecution is set to present one more witness to refute the testimony of a defense witness at 9 a.m., on Thursday, and defense attorneys will be allowed an opportunity to counter that witness’ testimony with additional information.

The case will then be put into the hands of a jury of 12 Clayton County residents and one alternate juror.

“The state will present its witness, and then the defense will decide whether to present any evidence as a result of the witness that the state will call,” Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield told jurors late Wednesday afternoon. “And, then at that point, we’ll begin with the opportunity for the attorneys to present their closing arguments to you.”

The jurors will not decide whether Roberts is innocent, or guilty, of all 13 counts he was originally indicted on in 2007, however. Benefield issued directed verdicts of acquittal on two counts of felony murder, two counts of burglary, and one count of armed robbery after prosecutors rested their case.

Prosecutors said an additional charge of aggravated battery has been dropped. That means the jury will be deciding whether Roberts is guilty of malice murder, felony murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment and three counts of aggravated assault.

Benefield issued the directed verdicts on some of the counts after defense attorney Dwight L. Thomas argued the Clayton County District Attorney’s office had done little to prove his client was present when Walker was stabbed, beaten, had his hair cut off and was doused in lamp oil before he was left to die in the trunk of his car. He also said no evidence was shown to establish Roberts’ motive for participating in the murder.

The only evidence prosecutors offered to tie Roberts to the scene was testimony from people who served as crime scene investigators on the case in 2006. They testified that they compared Roberts’ fingerprint to a fingerprint found on the glass globe from an oil lamp, in Walker’s living room. “It was identified as his fingerprint,” said Clayton County Police Sgt. Kenneth Corley.

Latent Print Examiner Robert Whritenour, a fingerprint expert provided by the defense, testified that it is “impossible” to determine exactly how long fingerprints have been on objects, however.

Although he was successful in getting directed verdicts of acquittal on some of the charges against his client, Thomas had sought similar verdicts on the other counts as well. “I am presenting a motion for a directed verdict as to the overall indictment, including all of the counts in the indictment, being that this is circumstantial evidence case, based on the impression of a fingerprint,” he told the judge.

Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers, in responding to Thomas’ motion, did not argue directly about the importance of the fingerprint. She did point out, however, that prosecution witnesses had testified that they thought a struggle had occurred at the home because of debris, and blood found strewn around the house.

Prosecutors had argued earlier in the trial that the fingerprint on the glass globe was important because it was found in the middle of Walker’s living room floor, several feet away from the lamp that it belonged to.

Roberts did not testify before the defense case rested late Wednesday afternoon, telling Benefield that he felt it was “unnecessary.” The three other men who had been accused in 2006 of killing Walker, including Miles Allen, Breylan Garland and Theodore Holliman, have not been called to testify during the trial, and neither side indicated plans to call them as witnesses on Thursday.