Archive for Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trials set to begin in Dollar General death

April 16, 2008, 4:27 p.m.

Updated: April 20, 2008, 11:43 a.m.

The trial for one of the two men charged with the November 2005 murder of Robin Bell will begin next week.

The trial for Robert Haberlein, 19, Kansas City, Kan., is set to open April 21, with a hearing for pretrial motions set for Friday. The trial for the other defendant, John Backus, 21, Bonner Springs, is set for April 28 in Division 4 of the Wyandotte County District Court.

Bell, a 44-year-old Tonganoxie resident, was general manager of the Dollar General store, 612 S. 130th St.

Amber Russell, 18, Lenexa, was charged in the murder, but the Wyandotte County district attorney's office agreed to not try her as an adult in exchange for a truthful testimony against Haberlein and Russell. Russell's testimony at a December hearing called into question whether her deal still stood, and Assistant District Attorney Chris Schneider said Monday he couldn't comment.

The trial will feature testimony from "a lot of officers" in the Bonner Springs Police Department, said Lt. Rick Schubert, including all the members of the investigative unit that worked on the case.

In a December hearing that featured testimony from Russell and from a former social worker assigned to Haberlein, Wyandotte County District Judge David Boal ruled that Haberlein would be tried as an adult. He was 17 at the time of the murder and turns 20 on April 23.

Before giving his ruling that Haberlein should be waived to adult status for trial, Boal listed the factors that entered into the decision: the seriousness of the offense, the nature of the offense, that it was against a person, that other means of adjudication weren't appropriate, the previous history of the defendant, the maturity of the defendant, evidence he could be rehabilitated in the juvenile system and whether the community would be better served if he were tried as an adult.

Stephanie Carlin, who served as supervisor for Haberlein in the Wyandotte County intensive supervision program of the juvenile division of community corrections, testified in the December hearing that Haberlein had been assessed as having "mild mental retardation." Also, she said that in 1999, when Haberlein was 11, he had been tested and found to have a third-grade reading level, second-grade math skills and the written-language skills of a student still in first grade. He was also diagnosed as bipolar, with attention-deficit-hyperactive disorder, and abusing alcohol and cannabis, Carlin said.

Both men are in Wyandotte County Jail and Russell is in the county's juvenile detention facility.

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