An Eastern State Hospital patient approached an employee making his rounds in the middle of the night.
“I murdered someone,” the patient told the employee, according to court documents, “but you’re going to have to find him.”
It was about 2:45 a.m. Tuesday in the ward reserved for the criminally insane. The patient, Amber Ilene Roberts, 30, followed the employee down the hall as he checked each of the rooms.
“You’re getting warmer,” she told him.
When he reached the room of Duane Charley, she said, “You’re hot.”
The employee looked into the room and saw the victim lying on the floor, covered with a blanket, according to court documents.
Roberts entered the room with the employee and pulled back the blanket, revealing Charley’s face and hands, which were covered in blood.
Roberts pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Spokane County District Court to first-degree murder in connection with the strangling death.
According to court documents, Roberts told the employee she had strangled the victim, and the employee placed her in an isolation cell and called for help.
A doctor responded but pronounced the victim dead at the scene.
Roberts appeared in Spokane County District Court via video feed from the Spokane County Jail on Wednesday, wearing a yellow jump suit with her hands cuffed behind her back.
According to court documents, Charley’s roommate, Charles Murch, was awoken sometime between midnight and 12:30 a.m. by a noise in the room. He saw Roberts climb on top of Charley, who was lying in bed, remove a belt from her waist, wrap it around Charley’s neck and begin strangling him.
Murch saw Roberts pull Charley off the bed and begin slamming his face against the floor repeatedly.
Roberts stopped the attack, approached Murch and whispered in his ear something like “don’t say anything to anyone or you’ll be next” before continuing to strangle Charley, documents say.
Fearing for his life, Murch pretended to be asleep and initially denied knowing anything about the attack.
Another patient in that ward told authorities that Roberts, who had scratches on her neck, told him around 12:30 a.m. that she had just killed somebody with a cord.
Another claimed Roberts appeared agitated on Monday, the day before the attack, and said she was going to kill someone. Early Tuesday, she was awoken by Roberts telling her “I did it. I did it. I did it,” according to court documents.
Detectives processing the scene collected evidence including blood from the room and the victim’s body, gray-colored cord, paper with possible blood spatter, a necklace, a belt and some clothing.
Spokane County Medical Examiner Sally Aiken, who conducted the autopsy, determined Charley’s cause of death to be homicide by ligature strangulation.
The 31-patient ward, 3S1, is part of the Forensic Science Unit, which houses patients who have been accused of crimes but deemed too mentally ill to understand right from wrong.
“The ward is co-ed in nature and secure so that only authorized persons are allowed to enter or exit,” according to court documents. “Each room has a door on it, but they remain unlocked so patients and staff can have access with only limited privacy afforded.”
Within the ward, only a few areas are off-limits for patients, including medication rooms, administrative offices, the nurses’ station, an employee break room, supply rooms and janitorial closets.
Spokane County authorities arrested Roberts in 2003 for allegedly choking a 72-year-old Yakima woman, stealing the woman’s car and driving it to the Liberty Lake area, where she was arrested.
A judge determined Roberts was legally insane and she was institutionalized at the hospital indefinitely.
Roberts’ case will be moved to Spokane County Superior Court. District Judge Randy Brandt kept her bond at $1 million.