Thursday, 22 February 2024

Roberts convicted of first-degree murder; sanity phase starts Tuesday

LAKEPORT On Thursday afternoon a jury found a Clearlake man guilty of first-degree murder for the October 2006 killing of his roommate but still to be decided is whether or not the man was sane.


After nearly two months of testimony, the seven-woman, five-man jury found James Wade Roberts, 46, guilty of murdering 63-year-old Ruth Donaldson – with a special allegation of using a deadly weapon – after less than a day's deliberation.


But the trial isn't over yet, said District Attorney Jon Hopkins.


That's because Roberts entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, which necessitates a sanity trial, said Hopkins.


"The poor jury was crestfallen when they were told they had to come back for more," Hopkins said.


The trial has lasted several weeks longer than originally anticipated. Hopkins said the trial began Feb. 13 but has encountered delays.


Roberts was alleged to have stabbed Donaldson once with a knife on Oct. 15, 2006, at the home they shared on Mullen Avenue in Clearlake. Hopkins alleged that as Roberts stabbed Donaldson he moved the knife around, damaging her heart and lungs and causing her to bleed to death.


Besides stabbing her, Roberts is alleged to have strangled Donaldson with a 3-foot-long cord, Hopkins added.


During closing arguments on Wednesday Stephen Carter, Roberts' defense attorney, argued that Roberts was delusional and mentally ill, claiming that God told him to kill Donaldson, statements Roberts also had made on the stand.


Roberts' delusions, according to Carter, also included a vast conspiracy theory involving Sept. 11, 2001, the Iraq War and Armageddon.


Carter's psychological expert, Dr. Albert Kastl, diagnosed Roberts with schizophrenic affective disorder, a mixture of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Carter noted during closing arguments.


While Roberts spoke with Kastl, he did not speak with two doctors brought in by the prosecution, Carter said. Those doctors contradicted Kastl's diagnosis, with one suggesting that Roberts' actions were the result of psychosis induced by alcohol and methamphetamine.


Kastl's conclusion which Hopkins put under rigorous scrutiny on Tuesday, keeping Kastl on the stand the entire day was reportedly backed up by 18 out of 20 individuals who have evaluated Roberts, according to Carter.


While Carter argued that Roberts had a long history of mental illness and psychotic episodes, Hopkins asserted that Roberts was faking his mental illness or "malingering" in order to avoid another prison sentence.


Roberts had admitted to five previous strikes on his record, including a robbery and four counts of assault with a deadly weapon, said Carter.


Hopkins added that one of the four assault with a deadly weapon counts resulted in great bodily injury, which landed Roberts in Pelican Bay State Prison.


The trial's sanity phase will begin next Tuesday and possibly wind up by Wednesday, said Hopkins. “I expect it will be rather quick because we've already had all the psychological and psychiatric testimony and we don't have to repeat it all.”


Carter said Judge Richard Martin told the jury the sanity phase is likely to finish by Thursday, but added that it's always difficult to predict how long such proceedings might take.


If Roberts is found sane, he would face a minimum 51 years to life in prison, said Hopkins.


Added Carter, “He's looking at a life sentence under any scheme because of five strikes on his record.”


However, if found insane, Roberts would go instead to a state mental hospital, and could eventually be released on an outpatient basis, said Hopkins. "If he's found insane he won't go to prison."


Carter maintains that his client is mentally ill and that the insanity plea was appropriate for the case.


John Jensen contributed to this report.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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