GREENFIELD — Less than a week after Gary Roberts was killed in his Greenfield home, the woman who shot him – his wife of 31 years – was released from jail and faces no charges in his death.
Just as a 72-hour hold on Elizabeth Roberts, 56, was set to expire Thursday morning, Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin declared he would not pursue a case against her.
He had previously stated he was weighing charges including murder and involuntary manslaughter.
The issue came down to whether Roberts was in reasonable fear for someone else’s life when she pulled the trigger.
Griffin concluded Roberts had good reason to believe her husband could be dangerous, and he says she did not commit a crime when she used deadly force to stop him. Law enforcement, on the other hand, expressed surprise at Griffin’s decision not to charge the shooter.
Roberts had filed a report with police Friday morning, stating her husband had been acting erratically and making suicidal statements. Later that afternoon, Gary Roberts told a family friend he would kill anyone who tried to take him into custody.
As Gary Roberts sat in the couple’s basement, loading ammunition into a magazine, Roberts said she told her husband she would shoot him if she had to in order to stop him. He handed her a .38-caliber handgun, took it back to check to see if it was loaded, then told her the weapon would “do the job,” court documents state. He handed the gun back to his wife, and she shot him in the chest.
Griffin said that after interviews with Roberts, he became convinced her actions are protected by Indiana law, which states that “no person … shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting … a third party by reasonable means necessary.”
The decision to set Roberts free came as a surprise to the law enforcement officials who investigated the case, Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd said Thursday.
“It was a little bit of a shock, I think, to everybody,” he said. “I think everybody felt that it probably should have gone to a grand jury and let them decide.”
The thinking behind detectives wanting to convene a grand jury, however, was to help determine what charges should be filed – not whether charges should be filed, Shepherd said.
Had a grand jury come to the same conclusion Griffin did, it would have been easier for investigators to accept, Shepherd said.
The suggestion that Roberts might have prevented an ambush has played on officers’ emotions since the beginning, he added.
But they also believed despite Roberts’ intentions, she broke the law.
“I think that most law enforcement, when they initially heard she did it more or less to save officers’ lives, they were happy for that, but on the other hand, too, still thought that a crime was committed,” he said.
A court document filed with the petition to hold Roberts Monday said Gary Roberts was an alcoholic who was also known to abuse prescription medications.
His wife told investigators he had been drinking the morning she expressed her concerns to police.
The victim’s family has made no public statements since the shooting but has acknowledged Gary Roberts struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, a battle the family said began after the victim’s father died from cancer in 2002.
The family did not comment Thursday on Griffin’s decision but did issue a statement.
“The Roberts family continues to mourn the loss of our beloved Gary,” the family said in an email to the Daily Reporter. “We are comforted at this time by happy memories of Gary’s love of farming and all things mechanical, fascination with American history and status as a sci-fi movie buff. He was a devoted son, brother and uncle.”
Roberts was released from jail Thursday morning. Her whereabouts now are unknown; no one answered the door at her home Thursday afternoon.
Griffin had planned to issue a more detailed press release Thursday explaining his decision, but that release had not been made available at press time.
Shepherd said law enforcement has no choice but to move on.
“Throughout the career of policemen, there are things that don’t go the way you think they should,” he said. “We’ve just got to move forward. Whatever the prosecutor decides, obviously, he has the final say.”