Guardian indicted in death of teen

A Baltimore City grand jury indicted yesterday on first-degree murder charges the legal guardian of a teen-age girl who prosecutors said died from abuse.

Satrina Roberts, 31, was charged with murder and child abuse in the death of Ciara Jobes, 15. Ciara's emaciated body, weighing just 73 pounds and badly bruised, was found by police in Roberts' kitchen in a Southeast Baltimore apartment Dec. 11.

Meanwhile, the girl's grandmother, Iva Cruse, has hired a lawyer to look into the role public agencies, including the Department of Social Services and city school system, might have played in her death.

Cruse said she contacted the Department of Social Services with concerns about Ciara's care while Roberts was her guardian. The school system, which also contends it contacted the department with concerns about abuse, said that the girl never reported for classes at Patterson High School in September.

Roberts' attorney, Warren A. Brown, said that although Ciara's guardian has told police she struck the girl the night before she died, the beating was not the cause of the teen-ager's death. Brown also said Roberts did not starve Ciara or keep her locked in a room for months.

"It was a great deal of sensationalism associated with it, but the evidence will show that Ms. Roberts did not neglect this young girl to the extent that she passed away," Brown said yesterday.

"We're going to have witnesses who saw the girl out playing weeks before this, saw her on trips. They've been over there before. The girl was not locked in a room, made to defecate in a hole in a wall."

Police have said that Ciara was kept in a room with a chained door and that she was forced to use a hole in a wall for a toilet.

Roberts, of the 1200 block of Gregor Way, faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if she is convicted of murder and 30 years if she is convicted of child abuse. She is being held in the city jail without bail and is scheduled for arraignment on March 27 before Judge Wanda Keyes Heard.

Cruise, Ciara's maternal grandmother, believes that some agencies might have done more for the girl and has retained attorney A. Dwight Pettit to pursue a possible lawsuit.

"We're trying to verify that Ms. Cruse made several calls to DSS and nothing was done," said Mitchell D. Treger, who works for Pettit. "We're trying to verify that the ball was dropped."

Cruse said she is pursuing potential legal action because she believes agencies that should have been looking out for Ciara failed. Ciara's mother, Jackie Cruse, died in July and had relinquished custody of the girl in 1998.

"I'm hoping that [Pettit] can fix it so that what happened to Ciara will never happen again to nobody else's child," Cruse said yesterday.

She said that she sought custody of Ciara but was refused by DSS.

Cruse, 54, acknowledged that nearly three decades ago, DSS took her children away from her, but she said that she had regained custody and would have had no problems caring for Ciara.

Cruse said she had taken care of Ciara's brothers, Christopher and Cornell, off and on since 1998. Cruse also said she gave Roberts money for Ciara's care until the guardian refused to let her see the girl.

"If I could give Satrina Roberts $150 every two weeks for Ciara until she stopped letting us have any kind of contact with her, then what's wrong with me taking care of her all the way?" Cruse asked. She also said she hopes that justice is done in Roberts' criminal case.

"I know Ciara is resting, but I just want Satrina Roberts to get what she deserves," Cruse said.

"Getting her off, or her spending