Wrongly Accused

Authorities: Witnesses lied about murder

By Erik Johns
Advocate Reporter

NEWARK – For a man who spent 48 days in jail after allegedly being framed for murder by his girlfriend and two friends, Timothy Roberts maintains a sense of calm.

Roberts, 19, of Sunbury, was originally charged with one count of murder in the Nov. 27 stabbing death of his longtime friend, James Price, 18, also of Sunbury, on Ohio 79 after a night of partying in Newark and Heath.

Officials released Roberts from jail on Jan. 12 and dropped all charges, alleging that the three other witnesses at the scene of the stabbing – Roberts' girlfriend and another couple lied to police about the incident.

"I knew I was innocent, so I really remained calm the entire time," Roberts said about his duration in the Licking County Jail.

The turning point came on Jan. 7, when Roberts took a "stipulated" lie-detector test, which carried a certain amount of risk.

The stipulation declared that Roberts could take the test to help advance the investigation, but if he didn't pass it, it would be admissible evidence in a trial.

"I was nervous, but I knew I was innocent, so I didn't have anything to fear," Roberts said.

He passed the test, and Newark police detectives began to pursue the possibility that someone else committed the crime. Prosecutors say the other man who was out with Roberts that night has been implicated, and he is currently incarcerated in the Delaware County Jail on unrelated assault and drug charges.

So far, no other charges have been filed. Roberts said he still can't understand why his friends would link him to the stabbing.

"The only thing I'd really like to ask them is why and how you could do that to a person" he said. "I would like to know why."

So what is the first thing a free man does after being released from jail on murder charges? "I had a cigarette," Roberts laughed – a Marlboro Red, to be exact.

After that, he went to his mother's house, where the whole family had a special meal that Roberts prepared – an orange-chicken recipe he devised himself.

That meal was more than just a chance for the family to get together and express their relief. It was the culmination of a goal they had discussed from the outset.

"We had a nice family meal that we had been talking about the whole time," Roberts' aunt, Kristi Holden, said. "When you're talking to this kid and it's such a bleak situation, looking forward to that meal is one of the things that kept us positive."

Holden did more than provide positive energy for Roberts. It was her efforts that helped obtain the finances necessary to retain Robert Calesaric as Roberts' lawyer.

"I would have sold my soul to the devil at that point," she said.

The day after he was released, Roberts visited Price's memorial site. Since he had been in jail at the time, Roberts was unable to attend his best friend's funeral. "It was upsetting. There was really nothing I could do," he said. "After I got out, I went to his grave site and said my final goodbyes."

The two met at a Sunbury roller-skating rink when they were 12 or 13 years old and had been friends ever since.

For Roberts' mother, Lorri Roberts, the most heartbreaking aspect of the situation was that Roberts spent his 19th birthday, Christmas and New Years Day in jail.

She says that she knew her son was innocent the first time she talked to him after the stabbing.

"Our very first conversation ... his first words out of his mouth were, 'Mom, I didn't do this," she said, later adding, "The whole family had never believed Tim would do this."

Lorri Roberts also expressed sympathy for Price's family and their loss. "Our hearts have been out for them," she said.

Roberts still hasn't spoken with Price's family, as they are still emotionally distraught and preparing for the upcoming criminal proceedings. "In the future, I would like to be able to talk to James' parents and explain what went on that night," Roberts said.

The ordeal was emotionally taxing on Roberts, but he is looking forward to getting on with the rest of his life, which includes pursuing a welding career. "It's something I can move on from, but it's still going to be stuck there in my mind," he said. "It's not going to be easy to let go of."

Roberts' girlfriend allegedly made the most damaging remarks to police. "She not only told them that he stabbed his best friend … but she even goes back to the police and tells them that Tim was out of control (that whole night)," Calesaric said. "It was a pretty extensive fabrication. I've never seen lying to that extent on such a serious charge."

Calesaric said he and Roberts are committed to helping prosecutors pursue the criminal case against the real stabber.

He added that once some doubt started to creep in on the case, everyone involved in the investigation was willing to explore the possibility that Roberts was framed. "We all ended up working together," Calesaric said. "That doesn't happen very often."