‘Time has still not eased the pain’

Mother of 1993 mur­der vic­tim dur­ing re­sen­tenc­ing hear­ing for Ricky Mau­rice Roberts

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - DAILY LOCAL NEWS - By Carl Hessler Jr. chessler@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @mont­co­court­news on Twit­ter

With tearful, heart-wrench­ing tes­ti­mony, her grief still fresh 25 years later, the mother of a Stowe mur­der vic­tim ad­dressed the ju­ve­nile killer who took her daugh­ter’s life and is seek­ing pa­role.

“The grief and pain that I, as a mother, and we as a fam­ily, have had to en­dure is just in­de­scrib­able and ex­cru­ci­at­ing. Time has still not eased the pain, it is ag­o­niz­ing ev­ery sin­gle day,” San­dra Saun­ders, the mother of mur­der vic­tim Brenda J. Rhoades, tes­ti­fied Fri­day in Mont­gomery County Court dur­ing the re­sen­tenc­ing hear­ing of con­victed killer Ricky Mau­rice Roberts.

“Brenda had so much to live for. She had her whole fu­ture ahead of her at only 26. Brenda would be 52 years old and I have to visit my daugh­ter at her grave, some­thing a mother should never have to do in her life­time,” Saun­ders choked back tears as she tes­ti­fied for As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney James Price. “I miss her so much ev­ery sin­gle day of my life.”

Roberts, 17 and a spe­cial edu

cation stu­dent at Potts­grove High School at the time of the June 7, 1993, gun­shot slay­ing of Rhoades, who was his neigh­bor, wiped tears from his eyes as he lis­tened to Saun­ders’s grief.

Roberts, now 43, for­merly of the 800 block of East Howard Street, pleaded guilty but men­tally ill in Novem­ber 1993 to a charge of gen­eral homi­cide in con­nec­tion with Rhoades’s killing. Judge Bernard A. Moore sub­se­quently con­victed Roberts of first-de­gree mur­der and sen­tenced him to life im­pris­on­ment with­out pa­role.

But Roberts re­cently was granted a re-sen­tenc­ing hear­ing af­ter the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 rul­ing that manda­tory life sen­tences with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role were un­con­sti­tu­tional for ju­ve­niles. In 2016, the high court said the rul­ing should be ap­plied retroac­tively.

Judge Gail A. Weil­heimer, who has the re­spon­si­bil­ity to fash­ion a new sen­tence, heard tes­ti­mony this week from Rhoades’s rel­a­tives and other ev­i­dence re­gard­ing Roberts’ dys­func­tional child­hood, his men­tal ill­ness and his con­duct and ac­com­plish­ments dur­ing his in­car­cer­a­tion.

“In my opin­ion, you should never be al­lowed out, you should stay be­hind bars as your orig­i­nal sen­tence was im­posed, for life; any­thing less would just be a priv­i­lege to you and a pun­ish­ment to my fam­ily,” Saun­ders ad­dressed Roberts directly. “I un­der­stand that my wishes will not bring Brenda back, but you should never be al­lowed out of prison. If Brenda can­not get a sec­ond chance at life, you should not ei­ther.”

Other rel­a­tives of Rhoades tes­ti­fied or wrote let­ters to the judge, de­scrib­ing Rhoades as a “bright, com­pas­sion­ate and lov­ing per­son” who wanted chil­dren one day and they spoke for­lornly about the hol­i­days and fam­ily cel­e­bra­tions they missed with Rhoades. As they spoke, rel­a­tives tear­fully glanced at a framed pho­to­graph of Rhoades that they car­ried to court.

Laura Angstadt, the vic­tim’s sis­ter, tes­ti­fied that at­tend­ing a re-sen­tenc­ing hear­ing for Roberts was like “re-liv­ing a night­mare.”

“Go­ing through this once in a life­time is in­con­ceiv­able, but to be here again is just un­bear­able,” said Angstadt, adding her sis­ter’s mur­der left a void in her heart that can never be filled.

Weil­heimer, call­ing their pain “pal­pa­ble,” as­sured Rhoades’s rel­a­tives she will con­sider their tes­ti­mony as she de­ter­mines a new sen­tence for Roberts.

“I see your beau­ti­ful daugh­ter. I rec­og­nize the loss to your fam­ily. Brenda didn’t de­serve this. No one does,” Weil­heimer ad­dressed the griev­ing fam­ily mem­bers.

Weil­heimer will hear ad­di­tional tes­ti­mony on Sept. 28 be­fore de­ter­min­ing a new sen­tence for Roberts.

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing and guide­lines es­tab­lished by higher courts, pros­e­cu­tors es­sen­tially can’t seek the same life prison term with­out pa­role that Roberts re­ceived in 1993. Newer guide­lines for ju­ve­nile killers have rec­om­mended sen­tences in the area of 35 years to life.

Re­gard­less the sen­tence that Weil­heimer even­tu­ally im­poses, it will be up to the state Board of Pa­role to de­cide if Roberts is re­leased at his min­i­mum term.

De­fense lawyers Car­rie L. All­man, the chief homi­cide lawyer in the county pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice, and As­sis­tant Pub­lic De­fender Daniel Theveny Jr. re­lied on the tes­ti­mony of psy­chi­a­trists and prison of­fi­cials to sup­port their ar­gu­ment for im­me­di­ate pa­role for Roberts, who was di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia and claimed “voices” told him to kill his neigh­bor.

De­fense wit­nesses tes­ti­fied Roberts “be­lieved that he was one of the bad an­gels and that he was do­ing the devil’s work” at the time of the killing, but no longer has hal­lu­ci­na­tions or delu­sions, has ma­tured af­ter serv­ing 25 years in prison and has com­plied with pro­to­cols for tak­ing anti-psy­chotic med­i­ca­tions to treat his schizophre­nia.

Roberts, de­fense wit­nesses tes­ti­fied, has adapted well to a struc­tured lifestyle in prison and is a low-risk for re­cidi­vism if re­leased from prison.

Dur­ing her ques­tion­ing of some de­fense wit­nesses, the judge made clear she is con­cerned about Roberts’ men­tal health needs and his med­i­ca­tion man­age­ment.

Psy­chi­a­trists, prison of­fi­cials and so­cial work­ers claimed men­tal health ser­vices, in­clud­ing half­way houses, group homes and coun­sel­ing, do ex­ist that can as­sist parolees in main­tain­ing their med­i­ca­tion pro­to­cols.

Wit­nesses ap­peared to agree that if Roberts is re­leased from prison, he would still need “wrap around ser­vices” from a treat­ment team to en­sure he con­tin­ues to take his med­i­ca­tions.

Au­thor­i­ties said Roberts, who was liv­ing with his grand­par­ents on East Howard Street at the time of the killing, con­fessed to shoot­ing Rhoades once in the head with a .22-cal­iber hand­gun af­ter go­ing to Rhoades’ home un­der the guise of need­ing a cup of sugar.

Dur­ing the 1993 trial, psy­chi­a­trists for both the pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense tes­ti­fied that Roberts was ex­tremely dan­ger­ous and that he may be in­clined to kill again with­out con­tin­u­ous men­tal health treat­ment. The doc­tors main­tained Roberts was not in­sane at the time of the killing and that he was able to form the spe­cific in­tent to kill, a re­quire­ment for a first-de­gree mur­der con­vic­tion.

CARL HESSLER JR. — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Ricky Mau­rice Roberts, now 43, con­victed of killing Stowe neigh­bor in 1993 when he was 17, is back in a Mont­gomery County Court­room for a re-sen­tenc­ing hear­ing. The hear­ing will con­tinue on Sept. 28.

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