A judge has dismissed the case against a man who admitted to murder in Apache County after the court found the Apache County Attorney’s office infringed the man’s constitutional rights by talking with him without his attorney present. Former La Paz County Attorney Martin Brannan was the lead prosecutor in the case and is now being subjected to a Bar probe.
“The Court is appalled by the outrageous and unethical behavior of the Apache County Attorney’s office,” wrote Superior Court Judge Donna Grimsley in a January 18th ruling. The ruling dismissed all charges against 23-year-old Joseph Douglas Roberts.
Roberts walked free on Wednesday night, after confessing to participating in the murder of one 72-year-old man and helping to burn the body of another murder victim. He was charged with first degree murder, conspiracy, auto theft, mutilating a human body, concealment of a dead body, tampering with evidence and five counts of hindering prosecution.
County Attorney’s office investigator Brian Hounshell visited Roberts in jail and made references to accepting an offer of 25 years, avoiding possible life in prison or the death penalty. The judge said the meeting was approved by Apache County Attorney Micheal Whiting and the prosecutor in the case, former La Paz County Attorney Martin Brannan. They did not notify Roberts’ lawyer of the meeting.
In her ruling, Judge Grimsley said, “Mr. Hounshell knew that the Defendant had an appointed lawyer and the prosecutors who authorized the visit knew that the defendant had a lawyer. None of the three made any attempt to contact the Defendant’s lawyer.”
Bar complaints were filed against Whiting and Brannan. Arizona Bar Association spokesman Rick DeBruhl is quoted as saying that the complaints were deemed to be supported by sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation, which is ongoing.
The charges against Roberts cannot be re-filed.