Accused murderer set free because judge says his rights were violated

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PHOENIX, Ariz. – An accused murderer in northern Arizona is free after a judge ruled his rights were violated by investigators.

Prosecutors said Joseph Roberts, 23, assisted a young serial killer in the St. Johns area. He has been in jail for more than a year but since investigators talked to him without his attorney present, a judge let him go.

Roberts is accused of murdering, mutilating and hiding victims in the St. Johns area. One victim was attacked inside his home while another was shot, burned and buried in a shallow grave.

Last February, Apache County investigators met with Roberts inside the jail to discuss a plea deal. Roberts’ attorney was not present, which Judge Donna Grimsley ruled was a violation of his rights. She said the investigators' actions were “outrageous and unethical.” Last night Grimsley let the accused murderer walk out the front door.

Apache County Prosecutor Michael Whiting said he is stunned.

“He's out. I have no idea where he is," Whiting said. "People are flabbergasted at the judge for doing this."

The judge dismissed the entire case against Roberts and ruled the charges cannot be re-filed.

Former Superior Court Judge Stephen Gerst with the Phoenix School of Law said he does not expect her ruling to stand.

“A court of appeals could reverse that order … in days or weeks, at the most."

In the meantime, Roberts is free and it has many in the Apache County area from St. Johns to Springerville on edge.

“I'll be honest with you, I’m worried about my safety, family's safety and worried about officers … who put their lives on the line to bring this guy to justice," Whiting said.

The Maricopa County attorney is handling an appeal of the decision.