Brenda Roberts collapsed upon being sentenced to 14 years in prison for her role in the cover-up after the 2003 of James Bolt at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Laurens.
Roberts, 65, was convicted Thursday by a jury of five women and seven men of accessory after the fact in brutal murder of Bolt, who was killed on Sept. 26, 2003 while cleaning up at the VFW.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour after closing arguments Friday morning before returning the verdict around 1 p.m.
“Justice was delayed, but not denied,” 8th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Warren Mowry said. “Apparently, (Roberts) is going to serve one year for every year of agony she caused the Bolt family.”
Eighth Circuit Court Judge Frank Addy, Jr. sentenced Roberts to 14 years – one year short of the maximum allowed under state law, noting that she had no prior criminal record, but making clear the seriousness of her crime.
“In 2003, you had the opportunity to help bring persons to justice for this horrible, horrible offense,” Addy said upon sentencing. “You delayed justice by 14 very long, very arduous, very painful years.”
Roberts was accused of washing the blood-soaked clothes of alleged murderer Arthur “A.J.” Bowers. Prosecutors said she knew then that the murder had been committed and put together a string of testimony from law enforcement and other witnesses over the four-day trial that led the jury to its verdict.
Roberts maintained her innocence after the verdict was read while addressing the Bolt family.
“I’m so sorry for (the family’s) loss,” she said. “I hope that at some point in your life that you’ll know that I didn’t do these things. If you do believe it, then, as a Christian, I have to ask for your forgiveness.”
Defense Attorney Richard H. Warder said he expected the verdict to be appealed and emotionally pled for his client before sentencing.
“She may be the nicest person we’ve ever sent away,” he said.
Mowry said the investigation turned toward Roberts after Laurens County Sheriff’s Office video of her son, Doyle Wayne Roberts, was taken.
Doyle Roberts, also known as “Wanda Wayne,” was under arrest for stealing his mother’s car when he screamed, “You know you washed them clothes. You’re going to jail.”
During testimony, Doyle Roberts said he was high when he made those statements and did so because he was angry with his mother for calling the police about him taking the car.
Fred Miller, the defendant’s brother, also testified that she washed the clothes belonging to Bowers and her grandson, Randy Gambrell.
Mowry praised the work of local law-enforcement officers from the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office and the Laurens Police Department who began to take a second look at the once-dormant case.
Current 8th Circuit Investigator Walter Bentley, who was a Laurens Police Department detective at the time of the murder, and 8th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Jim Todd completed the prosecution’s team with Mowry.
“It’s a good day that was 14 years in the making,” 8th Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo said. “We finally have some justice for Mr. Bolt’s family, and, hopefully, we’re not done yet.”
The trial served as something of a precursor for the expected trial of Bowers, who faces murder charges in Bolt’s slaying.
Bowers’ trial is expected to begin later this year, Mowry said.
Mowry said Roberts’ trial served as a good test for the upcoming murder trial.
“In a lot of ways, that trial won’t be as complicated as this one because in this one we also had to prove that a murder took place before proving her part in the cover-up.”