Search warrant reveals little in case of Robert Manwill's death

Despite spending hours over two days searching the backyard of Evan Wallis' south Ada County home for evidence of then-missing Robert Manwill, detectives left with fewer than a dozen pieces of evidence, according to search warrant documents released this week.

But Wallis' home was just one of two residences police searched in the 10-day search that drew more than 2,300 volunteers and national attention. The other was the Oak Park Village apartment shared by Robert's mother, Melissa Jenkins, and her boyfriend, Daniel Ehrlick Jr. - both charged with first-degree murder after the boy's body was found Aug. 3 in the New York Canal in southern Ada County.

What police found at Jenkins' South Boise apartment on July 30 - and even what evidence allowed them to get the search warrant in the first place - remains a mystery.

Fourth District Magistrate John Hawley sealed those search warrant materials at the request of county prosecutors in July. This week, he rejected a request from the Idaho Statesman to unseal the documents.

The evidence used to charge Ehrlick and Jenkins with first-degree murder has not been publicly disclosed either, because prosecutors presented it in a secret grand jury hearing.

Hawley determined that the search warrant documents - public records routinely obtained by the Statesman and other media outlets in high-profile criminal cases - should be sealed in this case because Jenkins and Ehrlick's "Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial is a compelling interest that outweighs the public's First Amendment right of access to the documents."

Hawley said the information used by police to get the search warrant contains "numerous hearsay statements that would not be admissible at trial, and many of the statements are both accusatory and inflammatory" - and could make it hard to find an impartial jury for either defendant.

Hawley dismissed the Statesman's argument that such documents have been publicly disclosed in similar high-profile cases, like the 2004 Azad Abdullah first-degree murder case, where a jury that eventually sentenced Abdullah to death was selected without a problem.

Hawley did unseal the search warrant materials for Wallis' Southland Avenue home, saying there was "nothing in those documents that creates a substantial risk for prejudice to (Ehrlick and Jenkins)."

Wallis, who has insisted he had no knowledge of what happened and has not been charged in the case, is a friend of the Ehrlick family, and on July 31 and Aug. 1 he granted police access to his home in the 6600 block of Southdale Avenue, near Five Mile Road.

Police became interested in his home after he reported that his SUV had been stolen and mysteriously returned around the time Robert was reported missing.

A bloodhound showed interest in the house - which surprised the dog's handler, who was looking for traces of Robert in the SUV. A search-and-rescue dog trained to find human remains made a "passive alert" - detecting the possibility of a scent of human remains - at parts of the backyard. But no remains were found.

Police eventually took three latex gloves, two empty water bottles and two pairs of work gloves from Wallis' backyard - as well as a pair of shorts from inside the home. Search warrant documents don't say whether police suspect those items either belonged to or came into contact with Robert.

Patrick Orr: 373-6619

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