PORTLAND (AP) — A woman who pleaded guilty in 2004 to strangling her girlfriend and dumping her body at a Portland park might not have been the killer and should be released or retried, a federal judge said. The opinion Wednesday from Judge Malcolm Marsh cites a new DNA analysis and other evidence that raises doubt about whether Lisa Marie Roberts killed Jerri Lee Williams, The Oregonian reported.
Marsh said doubt alone wouldn’t be enough to release Roberts, but that he also found that her lawyer had failed to get an independent evaluation of cellphone evidence the prosecution brought forward just before the trial and that the lawyer had advised her to plead guilty.
Roberts’ lawyer, William Brennan, had told her the cellphone data would pinpoint her location near the park and from which direction the call was coming, points experts challenged when the case came to federal court, Marsh wrote.
Roberts likely would have insisted on going to trial but instead pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is serving 15 years, Marsh said. Brennan has since died.
The state has 90 days to decide whether it wants to retry Roberts. District Attorney Rod Underhill, who was the prosecutor in the case, said his office hasn’t made a decision.
At the time of Williams’ death, medical examiners had collected DNA evidence from her body, including material from under her fingernails as well as sperm collected from vaginal swabs. The sperm did not draw a match when state investigators ran it through a database in 2002, documents stated.
Among the evidence offered in Roberts’ federal case were the results of new DNA analysis in 2013 that showed links between the genetic material recovered from Williams’ body and two men who knew her.
Roberts had been living with a third woman in Southeast Portland when the two met Williams. Roberts and Williams developed a romantic relationship that led to a “volatile love triangle” among the three, the federal judge wrote.