Ulysses Roberson will be held to answer on a special circumstance of torture in the alleged murder of his 4-year-old son, meaning prosecutors could seek the death penalty or life in prison without parole for the polygamist.
El Dorado County Superior Court Presiding Judge Suzanne Kingsbury made no ruling on an allegation that Roberson killed his son based on racism. The point might be moot since prosecutors only need one special allegation to get a greater penalty if a jury finds Roberson guilty of first-degree murder.
Roberson, 54, is accused of murdering his son, Alexander Olive, two decades ago in a Tahoe Keys home. Authorities haven’t found Alexander’s body but believe enough evidence exists to pursue prosecution.
Hans Uthe, El Dorado County assistant district attorney, believes Roberson, a black man, was motivated by racism when he killed Alexander, a mulatto child.
Uthe also alleged Alexander’s reportedly prolonged death in an unheated garage during winter was unusually cruel. Alexander’s death culminated a long history of Roberson punishing Alexander for toiletry and other mistakes by withholding food and water and repeated beatings, Uthe said.
It was Roberson’s first court appearance since June’s two-day preliminary hearing. Ken Bonham, a senior El Dorado County public defender, put up a wall of case law and said the decision wouldn’t hold up in a court of appeals if his client were convicted.
Bonham cited California cases involving heinous crimes, such as a man who kidnapped a woman from a bar and shoved a stake from her rectum to her shoulder.
That crime, and others where victims were stabbed multiple times and didn’t die quickly, was torture and Alexander’s death paled in comparison, Bonham stated.
Bonham said his client disciplined all his children.
“He didn’t get up that day and intend to kill the child,” Bonham said.
Testimony from other household members, including the women, is flimsy, the defense stated.
“They were up to their eyeballs in this,” Bonham said.
Authorities who testified during the preliminary hearing said Alexander soiled his pants and was taken to the garage by Roberson, who beat the naked child and left him for hours afterward. One of the women checked on Alexander, who was listless in the fetal position, and covered him with a blanket. When Roberson discovered the blanket and believed Alexander sought that warmth, another beating occurred with a stick, authorities said.
Roberson then carried the child to the bathroom upstairs, according to the testimony.
“Maybe he wasn’t trying to kill him,” Bonham said. “Maybe he was trying to revive him in the bathtub.”
In response, Uthe noted transcripts of the preliminary hearing where authorities stated a woman saw Alexander floating in the bathtub.
During Kingsbury’s decision, those in attendance, which included Alexander’s family and law enforcement, hunched forward.
“He was disciplined very severely by his father,” Kingsbury said. “The adults in his life failed him, literally in everything.”
“This is an unimaginable horrific existence,” Kingsbury said before granting the special circumstance of torture.
The lack of decision on killing based on racism means Uthe could go to another judge to seek an answer. Uthe was unsure if he would pursue a ruling on the racism allegation.
Outside the courtroom, Uthe said he was pleased with the ruling and would confer with his boss, District Attorney Gary Lacy, on whether to seek the death penalty for Roberson.
Bonham was disappointed after what he thought was a solid defense of his client.
“I thought I had the law on my side but the judge disagreed,” he said.
Roberson is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 13 at 8:30 a.m. for an arraignment. Uthe believes trial will take place in early 2005.