American Chronicle

The Chaparral Murders: Dollar Store Justice
Author: Margaret M. Stoddart
ISBN: 978-0-595-44329-1
Review By Norm Goldman
January 16, 2008

Margaret M. Stoddart's The Chaparral Murders chronicles the true story of Rusty Phillips, who was arrested and charged with the 1982 murders of Glenn Roberts and his son Timmy in the rural town of Parsons West Virginia and how he was eventually convicted of one of the charges-the murder of Timmy (the murder of Glenn was never solved). Today, after twenty-five years of a sentence of life imprisonment, there still remains, according to Stoddart, a great deal of doubt if in fact Phillips was the murderer or if a murder did actually occur rather than an accidental death.

Stoddart is the stepdaughter of Edith Roberts, the mother of Timmy and the widow of Glenn. In the Preface to The Chaparral Murders, Stoddart states that she had written her book in order to document a series of horrific events in the life of Edith that began in 1982. As we read The Chaparral Murders, a composite picture slowly emerges that not only recounts the tragic deaths of Glenn and Timmy Roberts but also the seemingly unjustified conviction of Rusty Phillips that is reflective of a pattern similar to hundreds of other cases of wrongful conviction that have transpired over the years in the USA. It should be mentioned that every year many poor souls have been wrongfully convicted of a crime they didńt commit because they were either pressured to accept guilty pleas or were poorly represented by incompetent and unprepared attorneys. In most instances, the convicted are unable to afford costly attorneys and thus are left with little choice than to accept whatever attorneys are assigned to them. In addition, many of these attorneys are often overworked with little funds at their disposal to prepare an adequate defence. Was this the case with Rusty Phillips?
As our narrative unfolds, we immediately notice that Stoddart has produced an extensive and exhaustive portrait of Rusty Phillips, his socio-economic environment as well as all of the various characters that played a role in his conviction.

Beginning with the opening chapter we are introduced to Tucker County West Virginia that Stoddard describes as a close parochial community with a strong religious backbone and a family focus. There were very few major crimes in the county and thus you can well imagine the reaction of the towńs people when sixteen-year old Terry Roberts discovered the dead body of his father Glenn Roberts in the familýs trailer home.

Apparently, the fatal shot that killed Glenn Roberts was fired at a very close range. When the law authorities questioned Terry, he indicated that his brother Timmy never returned home the night of his fatheŕs murder. The police contacted various relatives in an effort to locate Timmy who at the time was a prime suspect in the apparent murder of his father Glenn. After several days Timmýs body was found in a wooded area about one hundred feet from a truck that belonged to Glenn Roberts-"mud, water, brush, flies, and maggots nearly obscured the corpse."

At the time as the deaths of Glenn and Timmy Roberts, Rusty Phillips was twenty-three years old and had just been released from the Randolph County Jail. Phillips was never exactly a model citizen and did have a few convictions beginning when he was a minor and continuing when he was an adult. And as Stoddart mentions, "his colorful past gave him a unique appeal to the teens."

Stoddart meticulously presents her readers with the investigation of the murders of Glenn and Timmy as well as providing background material as to who Rusty Phillips was and his upbringing.

In addition, there is considerable ink devoted to the break ins of the Veterans of Foreign Wars building as well a house trailer wherein both seemed to point to Rusty Phillips as being the culprit and the unifying thread was always to get Rusty, the diabolical criminal terrorizing Tucker County. However, as we more fully delve into the findings of Stoddart, we are likewise left with the conclusion, as is stated in the narrative, that the conviction of Rusty Phillips for first-degree murder is based solely upon mere shreds of circumstantial evidence and a botched up and inconclusive investigation.

The Chaparral Murders has many strong points particularly its impressive and comprehensive research considering that Stoddart began from scratch in amassing her information, and although it will probably will not receive as much attention as it deserves, it certainly merits reading. It is detailed but never dull, methodical but never hair-splitting with events that are recounted in retrospect, offering the reader a vivid description of what may have occurred when Glenn and Timmy Roberts lost their lives. Moreover, the book is not a bland exposition of a criminal trial but rather constant question that haunts every page of the book: did Rusty Phillips murder Timmy Roberts and did he receive a fair trial?

This is a timely book for a society that seems to lightly punish celebrities for some of their indiscretions yet ignore the indigent who are equally entitled to competent representation, particularly when it comes to the crime of murder where often we witness a miscarriage of justice. As Stoddart concludes: "a 2004 report by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants concluded that wrongful convictions in the United States may be as high as ten thousand annually. The poor are at constant risk of wrongful conviction due to prosecutorial misconduct and unqualified incompetent, and underpaid defence lawyers."

Recommended Reading
Truth in Justice