No deal: 2007 homicide going back to trial

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The woman who was convicted of murder in the 2007 death of a Grand Rapids businesswoman and then granted a new trial turned down a deal offered by prosecutors.

Under the deal, Robin Root would have pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of her landlord Janna Kelly. Her minimum sentence would have been 20 years.

Because she rejected the deal at a Monday hearing in Grand Rapids, she’ll go back on trial on charges of first-degree murder and open murder.

Root was originally convicted of first-degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to life in prison. Last year, the Michigan Court of Appeals threw out Root’s conviction, in part because investigators didn’t read her the Miranda rights until after she confessed. The court said that the videotaped confession shouldn’t be allowed as evidence and that Root was entitled to a new trial.

It was the second major mistake made by investigators in the case. Root’s DNA had previously gone untested for years due to an ‘oversight’ by the Grand Rapids Police Department. When a cold case team rediscovered it in 2014 and had it tested, it led authorities to Root. 

Root told detectives that in December 2007, she and Kelly argued over back rent. She pushed Kelly, who was knocked unconscious. She put Kelly in the trunk of her car and left her there overnight. When she returned in the morning, Kelly was dead. Root then drove to Ottawa County, where she dumped Kelly’s body in a blueberry field and set it on fire. Kelly’s remains were found three months later. 

While Root has admitted to police that she killed Kelly, she maintains that it was an accident rather than premeditated murder. Her attorney will likely argue for a conviction of only manslaughter when the second trial gets underway.  

Kelly’s family was at the court hearing Monday and were visibly upset when the deal was rejected. It has been more than 10 years since she died and they still don’t have a resolution in the case.

Grandville defense attorney John Smietanka, who has been practicing law for 47 years and previously served as a U.S. attorney, told 24 Hour News 8 that second trials can present challenges.

“This is a problem for both parties because each, having gone through a trial, has a chance to perfect what went wrong the first time,” Smietanka said.

The new trial is expected to happen in September.

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