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David Robinson

Other Murder Exonerations with Jailhouse Informants
On the night of August 5, 2000, 36-year-old Sheila Box died after she was shot in the chest while driving a Chevrolet Suburban in Sikeston, Missouri. The vehicle careened off Malone Avenue east of the intersection of Branum Avenue, crashed through a fence, and collided with a building housing a flea market.

Box was still alive when police and paramedics arrived, but she soon died at a hospital. Police found a handgun in her lap, which was not the murder weapon, and a small amount of cash.

Not long after, Sikeston police said an informant identified 32-year-old David Robinson and Keith West as being involved. Police arrested both shortly after midnight. They were released after no physical evidence was found linking them to the crime. No blood or gunshot residue was found on their clothes or in the car Robinson was driving.

On the night of August 16, the lead detective, John Blakely, interviewed Albert Baker, a drug addict who was in the Sikeston jail after being arrested for stealing an air conditioner. Baker had signed up two months earlier to be a paid informant for the Sikeston police department. Blakely emerged from the interview at 1 a.m. on August 17 with a written statement in which Baker said he was standing on Malone Avenue when he saw Robinson walk from a field toward Box’s vehicle, which was parked at a pay telephone at the corner of Malone Avenue and Branum Avenue.

Baker said in the statement that Robinson fired one shot into the air as he approached. Box had the driver’s side window down and was talking on the phone as Robinson approached. Robinson, Baker said, fired a silver revolver at Box, and then ran back into the field from where he came. The Suburban then accelerated out of control, crashed through the fence, and into the building.

Based on Baker’s statement, Robinson was arrested again and charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

The morning after Baker gave his statement, he was released from the jail. The theft charge eventually was dismissed. Ultimately, he was placed in a witness protection program and over time, was paid more than $2,000.

Sometime later, Detective Blakely obtained a statement from Jason Richison, a paranoid schizophrenic who was an inmate in the same jail as Robinson. Richison said he shared a cell with Robinson for three or four days during which Robinson said he “killed the white bitch and got a whole wad of money.” Richison also claimed that Robinson told him he was dressed all in white—including a white hat—and that after the shooting, he went to his aunt’s house.

In May 2001, a confidential informant told Scott County Sheriff’s deputy Bobby Sullivan that the real killer was Romanze Mosby. Sullivan passed that tip along to Detective Blakely, who did not pursue it.

Sullivan, however, investigated. Two other men told him they had heard that Mosby was telling people he killed Box and disposed of the murder weapon in Upper Big Lake. A search by divers of the lake and a nearby ditch was unsuccessful.

Sullivan interviewed Mosby twice. In the first interview, he denied involvement in the murder. In the second, he said the gunman was his cousin, Carlos Jones. Jones was then interviewed, and said the gunman was Mosby.Prior to trial, Scott County prosecutors moved to bar the defense from presenting testimony from Sullivan about Mosby. Judge Fred Copeland granted the motion. In addition, the judge barred the defense from calling Mosby to testify that Jones was the killer. He also barred another witness, Kerenzo Hill, who claimed that while he and Jones were incarcerated together, Jones admitted to the killing.

Robinson was convicted on August 31, 2001 after a three-day trial. The only witness who claimed to have seen Robinson shoot Box was Baker, who said he was standing across the street when he saw the murder. Richison, the other jailhouse informant, testified that Robinson admitted the crime to him while they were cellmates.

Antonio Jones testified for the defense that he was driving his car near Malone and Branum Avenues, and that he saw the Suburban travel on Branum, drive past a stop sign, make a wide turn onto Malone, and then crash. He said there was no shooting and that he had to maneuver his car to avoid colliding with Box’s vehicle.

Lillian Collins, who owned a convenience store at the corner of Branum and Malone, testified that she was in the store at the time Box’s vehicle crashed to a halt. She said she heard no gunshots.

The defense also called several witnesses who testified that Robinson was with his girlfriend and at a fish fry during the time of the crime.

On August 30, 2001, the jury convicted Robinson of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. In 2002, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld his convictions.

The defense filed a post-conviction motion seeking a new trial. In 2004, defense lawyers interviewed Richison under oath. Richison said that Robinson never admitted the crime to him and they never shared a cell.

Richison said that Detective Blakely “schooled me on what to say and how to say it.” He said that police threatened to beat him and charge him with possession of drugs. He said he was taken to the women’s wing of the building, stripped of his clothing, and forced to sit in front of a large fan. He said he did not report the abuse because he was scared.

At about the same time, Peron Johnson, an investigator for the Missouri State Public Defender’s office, found several witnesses who said they saw Box’s car driving up Branum Avenue and make a wide turn onto Malone before crashing into the building. None of them saw a shooting at the public telephone at the corner of Malone and Branum as Baker, the jailhouse informant, claimed he saw.

Johnson concluded that Romanze Mosby was the likely shooter and visited Mosby, who was in prison. Mosby confessed in a tape-recorded interview that he shot Box. Mosby said that he and Carlos Jones were at 845 Ruth Street when a white woman drove up in a Suburban and asked if there were drugs for sale. Mosby said he stepped up on the rail of the Suburban and offered to throw the drugs into the car if she would throw the money out.

Mosby said the woman reached for a handgun in her lap. Fearing she was going to shoot him, he pulled his gun and shot first. The woman then accelerated away, Mosby said.

Johnson then visited Albert Baker, the first jailhouse informant who said he saw the shooting. Baker began to weep, Johnson later said, and admitted that he had lied because he wanted to get out of jail. Baker declined to make a recorded statement, although he asked Johnson to tell Robinson he was sorry for what he had done.

By this time, the Missouri Attorney General’s office was handling the case for the prosecution. The prosecutor noted in her file that Detective Blakely had been instructed to have no contact with Baker. However, prior to the post-conviction hearing, Baker was on the street one day when a police car pulled up and an officer handed him a cell phone. Blakely was on the line and told Baker, “We’re watching you.”

Baker then stopped talking with Johnson. Johnson wrote a letter telling him he would make things worse by continuing to lie. “You did wrong at the original trial, don’t do it again,” Johnson wrote. As a result of this letter, which the prosecution considered threatening, the defense ultimately did not call Johnson at a witness at the post-conviction hearing. At the hearing, Baker recanted his recantation and insisted his trial testimony was the truth.

In February 2005, the post-conviction motion for a new trial was denied. The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in December 2005.

In November 2006, Robinson, acting without a lawyer, filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. That petition was denied in February 2010.

Months earlier, the St. Louis law firm of Bryan Cave agreed to re-examine Robinson’s case after successfully obtaining the exoneration of Joshua Kezer, who had served 15 years for a murder he did not commit.

Lawyers at Bryan Cave would spend the next several years re-investigating the case before ultimately filing a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition contained sworn affidavits from men who had been imprisoned with Mosby.

Vincent Hines, Donald Triblett, and Michael Richardson all said that Mosby admitted to shooting Box.

Richardson, who was serving a sentence for manslaughter in the same prison as Mosby, said he learned about the murder when Mosby began asking him questions about Richardson’s case.

Richardson said that when he asked Mosby why he was so curious about his manslaughter case, Mosby replied that he had shot “the woman that David Robinson is locked up for.” Mosby said he saw the woman had a gun and he was afraid she was going to shoot him.

Richardson said that at about that time, Mosby began to seclude himself in his cell as if “something was just eating him up on the inside.”

Hines, a cellmate of Mosby in 2005, said that Mosby told him he was troubled because someone else had been convicted of a crime he committed. Hines said Mosby claimed it was a drug deal and that he thought the customer was going to take the drugs and not pay, and that he shot her before she could shoot him.

Triblett said that Mosby admitted to him that he told investigator Johnson in 2004 that he shot Box. Triblett said that about that time, Mosby became depressed, cut off his long hair, and lost considerable weight.

In 2012, the lawyers confirmed that Mosby had confessed to Kelvin Howard. Howard had lived with Mosby’s mother for three decades and was a father figure to Mosby. Howard revealed that in 2009, he was in the same prison as Mosby, and that on June 19, 2009, Mosby asked Howard to accompany him to the prison library. There, Mosby showed him a newspaper containing an article detailing how Mosby had confessed to Johnson in 2004 that he killed Box.

Mosby said the news story was true. “David didn’t do it. I shot the lady,” Mosby said. He asked Howard to have a picture taken with him and then took the newspaper back to his cell. Later that night, Howard was awakened by prison authorities and informed that Mosby had hanged himself in his cell.

Howard had been approached in the past by lawyers and investigators for Robinson, but he declined to talk. When he finally opened up, he said he hadn’t spoken to anyone because Mosby’s mother was adamant that he remain quiet. After she died, Howard agreed to reveal Mosby’s confession.

Also in 2012, Baker told Robinson’s lawyers that he had lied at Robinson’s trial when he said he saw the shooting. And he admitted that he had been intimidated by Blakely into recanting his recantation.

In 2015, an evidentiary hearing was held on a state habeas corpus petition for a new trial. Despite recantations from Baker and Richison and evidence of Mosby’s confession, Judge Daniel Green refused to grant Robinson a new trial. Green ruled that Mosby’s confession was inadmissible and that the recantations were unreliable.

Five days later, the Missouri Court of Appeals refused to consider the habeas petition. In August 2016, the Missouri Supreme Court agreed to hear the petition and appointed Judge Darrell Missey as a special master to review the evidence and hear testimony.

In February 2018, Judge Missey recommended that the Missouri Supreme Court declare Robinson innocent.

Judge Missey ruled that Blakely and the trial prosecutor, Elizabeth Bock, “knowingly presented false testimony” and “failed to take any steps to correct that false testimony.” By then, Bock had become a state court judge in Missouri.

Judge Missey concluded that Bock knew that Richison had never been in the same cell with Robinson, but allowed him to testify that Robinson admitted to the murder while they celled together. Judge Missey also concluded that Detective Blakely testified falsely during post-conviction proceedings that he did not know that Baker would be released from jail immediately after he gave a statement saying he saw Robinson kill Box while she was on the telephone.

The judge also discarded as false Blakely’s testimony during the post-conviction proceedings that he never followed up on the original tip that Mosby was the real killer because he thought someone else was pursuing it for the Sikeston police department.

The judge said that the recantations by Baker and Richison were credible.

“(T)he conviction of David Robinson should be vacated,” Judge Missey wrote. Robinson “has proven by clear and convincing evidence that he is actually innocent of the murder of Sheila Box, such that the correctness of the judgment against David Robinson is completely undermined.”

On May 14, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Robinson was released. In 2019, Robinson sued Sikeston and two former officers, claiming they withheld evidence of his innocence. The lawsuit was settled in 2020 for $8 million.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/30/2018
Last Updated: 5/18/2020
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2000
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:32
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No