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Murder trial ends in life sentence

Christopher A. Roberts will have no chance of parole. He is guilty of the 1996 killing of his girlfriend in Clearwater.

By JOUNICE L. NEALY

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001


A Largo man who won a new murder trial last year was convicted Friday of killing his 16-year-old girlfriend and sentenced to prison, where he will serve a life term without the chance of parole.

Christopher A. Roberts, 23, told the judge that he was sorry that everybody "had to go through this." The jury deliberated for about four hours before convicting him of first degree murder in the 1996 shooting of Marissa L. Dalrymple in her Clearwater home.

The victim's family members sobbed when the verdict was read. Then Marissa's father, James Dalrymple, gave the judge a videotape of Marissa's friends reflecting on her life.

"You never saw a picture of my daughter," Dalrymple told the jury, who stayed to watch the sentencing. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Dee Anna Farnell would not play the tape during the trial, but told Dalrymple that she would watch it later.

He then called defense attorneys "unprincipled" before Farnell stopped him and explained that Roberts' attorneys were experienced.

"We heard innuendos. They were half-truths. They were lies. There weren't any facts," Dalrymple insisted before Farnell cut him off and told him it was no time for debate.

This time, Roberts did not leap to his feet as he did four years ago when Dalrymple got up to speak.

In December 1997, a jury deliberated just 15 minutes before convicting Roberts of first-degree murder. Just before sentencing, Dalrymple said that Roberts was lying about Marissa wanting to be killed.

Roberts, who then jumped up and yelled at Dalrymple, was wrestled to the ground by bailiffs and was dragged out of the courtroom.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Roberts because a trial judge didn't hold a hearing before deciding to bar defense lawyers from calling a psychologist to bolster an insanity defense.

On Friday, prosecutor Bill Loughery said during his closing arguments that Roberts was not "tree-swinging crazy" and that he knew right from wrong. There was no agreement between Roberts and Marissa to carry out murder-suicide. "There's no suicide. This is about murder," Loughery said.

Defense attorneys had argued that Roberts was insane at the time he shot Marissa in the head.

"No one in their right mind would kill somebody that they truly love," said Denis de Vlaming, Roberts' defense attorney.

Although the jury took several hours this time to convict Roberts, he again showed no emotion when the verdict was read. After the courtroom cleared, he was allowed to stand in the jury box and hug his parents, although bailiffs noted it was against policy.

"He can give his mom a hug," Farnell told the bailiffs.

She kissed him on the cheek, leaving lipstick. They sobbed in each other's arms.

"Happy birthday," Roberts said to his mother after tightly embracing her.

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