The murder trial of a Howard County man whose wife's body was found buried in the backyard of his home 21 years after she was reported missing has been postponed until next year because one of his attorneys had a medical issue.
Robert Jarrett, 58, appeared in court Monday for a pretrial motions hearing at which his attorney unsuccessfully argued that the remains identified by the state medical examiner as those of his wife, Christine, should be excluded as evidence because her body was cremated before the defense could conduct its own tests. The trial was postponed Tuesday.
Police had long suspected Robert Jarrett in the disappearance of his wife, who he said left their Elkridge home after an argument in January 1991. He remarried and continued to live in their home, and when he left his second wife to move in with another woman, detectives asked her if they could search the property. A body was found underneath concrete in a backyard shed in April. A cause of death is unknown.
At Monday's hearing, defense attorney George Psoras argued that Jarrett should have been able to have the body examined independently to confirm it was Christine Jarrett and to try to determine a cause of death.
Less than two weeks after the remains were found and before the autopsy had been completed, Psoras said, the state medical examiner's office released the remains to Jarrett's children, who had them cremated. The sons had checked first with one of the lead investigators in the case, both sides agreed.
"The remains are the linchpin of the case," Psoras told Circuit Judge Richard Bernhardt. "The state is saying, 'Believe us. We're the state. We did everything right.' … We had no access to anything."
Psoras raised the hypothetical possibility that Jarrett could have unwittingly bought the house with a body already under the shed, or that he could have killed someone else and buried them in the backyard, which he said would be a different case. He said being unable to independently test the body was a violation of Jarrett's due-process rights.
Prosecutors noted that Jarrett, in taped jail conversations with his sons, knew that the body was going to be cremated and provided money to them to assist with memorial service preparations.
"The overarching fact that colors everything is that the defendant knew about it before it happened, and had [legal] counsel, and no effort was made to preserve that body," said Assistant State's Attorney Jim Dietrich.
In denying the motion, Bernhardt said "one would think" that the detective would have told prosecutors that the family was getting the body cremated, "but there's nothing to indicate whether he acted in bad faith." He also called it "shocking" that DNA tests weren't conducted on the body, "but it is what it is." He said "that's part of the state's burden" at trial.
Prosecutors this summer also won a motion allowing them to introduce evidence that Robert Jarrett allegedly abused his wife.