Insanity plea filed in death penalty case


The attorneys representing the Columbus man charged with murder filed a motion last week calling their client’s sanity into question and asking for an evaluation.

William Sean Roberts, 30, of Columbus, is currently charged with aggravated murder, an unclassified felony; attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; attempted murder, a first-degree felony; kidnapping, a first-degree felony; two counts of having weapons while under disability, third-degree felonies; aggravated robbery; a first-degree felony; four counts of robbery, second-degree felonies; and one count of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony. He pleaded “not guilty” to the charges at an arraignment in August 2020 and has been awaiting trial ever since.

According to the indictment, the charges stem from events that transpired on the night of July 20, 2020, south of Polaris. Roberts allegedly shot and killed his 1-year-old daughter, identified in the indictment as R.R. Roberts, and also allegedly shot the baby’s mother, identified in the indictment as E.F. Roberts. Roberts was reportedly arrested after he attempted to carjack several vehicles and flee the scene.

After the indictment, prosecutors announced they would be seeking the death penalty for Roberts, a first for the county in nearly 20 years.

Roberts’ attorneys, Diane M. Menashe and Kort Gatterdam, filed a motion on May 17 asking for an evaluation of Roberts’s competence and asking to enter a plea of “not guilty by reason of insanity.”

In the motion, the attorneys lay out the basis for the insanity plea.

“Based on (conversations with Roberts and his family), review of available mental health records, review of available discovery, as well as recent investigation, it is clear that there is a valid question about Roberts’ present ability to meaningfully assist in his defense as counsel have had difficulty communicating with Roberts and are concerned with his current mental well-being,” the motion says. “Accordingly, counsel are now convinced that a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity is appropriate and that an evaluation of Roberts’ competence to stand trial is warranted.”

The attorneys asked that the evaluation determine a variety of things, including if Roberts is capable of understanding the nature and objective of the proceedings; if Roberts presently has a mental illness; as well as what his mental state was a that time of the crime.

The motion asks that all proceedings in the case be waived until after the evaluation is completed. The next date in the case would be a status conference on July 28 at 10 a.m. Roberts’ trial is currently set for Nov. 1 with a pretrial hearing scheduled for Oct. 9 at 1:30 p.m.

The aggravated murder charge carries several specifications, including a death penalty specification. Other charges carry firearm or repeat violent offender specifications, which would add mandatory prison time to any sentence Roberts would receive if convicted.

Roberts was denied bail at his arraignment and has been in the Delaware County Jail ever since. Since the arraignment, there have been more than 50 motions filed by attorneys in the case, and numerous hearings have been held.

Judge James P. Schuck had not yet ruled on the motion by press time Monday.

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.

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