Defense, prosecution rest in trial of accused Kansas serial killer
By Sue Miller Wiltz
OLATHE, Kansas (Court TV) -- After calling only three witnesses, the defense rested Friday in the capital murder trial of accused serial killer John E. Robinson Sr.
In resting, defense attorney Sean O'Brien once again moved for acquittal, saying that his team did not have enough time to prepare for trial and has been unable to present evidence about what's at heart of the case: Robinson's mental state.
"The jury will never hear about how crazy this man is," he stated, adding that Robinson has been on suicide watch at the Johnson County, Kansas, jail for the better part of the trial.
Judge John Anderson III denied the request for acquittal, saying that "the case has been pending, not weeks or months, but literally for years and Mr. Robinson chose to change counsel well into the course of the case." Noting that the current defense team has been assigned Robinson's case for more than a year, he said, "the court remains of the belief that there has been adequate time to prepare."
In Kansas, Robinson faces two counts of capital murder in the deaths of Suzette Trouten and Izabela Lewicka, whose bodies were found in barrels on rural property he owned. He is also accused of the first-degree murder of Lisa Stasi, whose body has never been found, and with arranging for his brother and sister-in-law to fraudulently adopt Stasi's 4-month-old baby, Tiffany.
Once this trial is over, he will be tried for the murders of the three women whose bodies were found in his Missouri storage locker.
On Monday, jurors will receive instructions from the judge and listen to closing arguments by both sides before beginning deliberations. The jury has not been sequestered to this point but will be for the duration of deliberations, the judge said.
The defense decision to rest so quickly came as a surprise Friday because there had been speculation that Robinson might take the stand and because his attorneys decided not to call at least one witness they had alluded to in opening statements. O'Brien had said at the outset that at least one other person had access to the Missouri storage locker, where three of Robinson's victims were found. That same person, he said, had sold property which belonged to two victims, Sheila Faith, 45, and her 15-year-old daughter, Debbie.
O'Brien had also said in openings that a piece of duct tape bearing a smear of one victim's blood was found in a trailer on Robinson's rural Kansas property and that a fingerprint on the tape belonged to neither Robinson nor the victim. Experts confirmed that Robinson's print wasn't on the duct tape but said they didn't know whether or not the print belonged to the victim, Izabela Lewicka.
Prosecution's final witnesses
The prosecution rested its case late Thursday after calling 110 witnesses and submitting some 500 photos and other pieces of evidence.
Two of the last prosecution witnesses confirmed that the defendant's fingerprints or DNA matched those found on checks sent to his alleged Missouri victims, on letters purportedly mailed by one of those victims to her brother and on plastic that covered barrels at the Missouri crime scene.
Johnson County fingerprint expert Lyla Thompson, on her second day on the stand, testified that she found three of Robinson's prints on a piece of plastic covering two of the barrels found in his Missouri storage locker. Inside the barrels, witnesses have testified, were the bodies of Sheila Faith, 45, and her 15-year-old daughter, Debbie.
Thompson testified that she also found 10 of Robinson's prints on the Faiths' Social Security checks. Other witnesses have already testified that Robinson, using the alias James Turner, picked up those checks from a private mailbox at the Mailroom in Olathe and cashed them in two local banks.
Robinson's fingerprints were also found on three $1,000 loan-repayment checks that Dr. William Bonner sent to his ex-wife, Beverly, a third victim whose body was found in a barrel in the Missouri storage locker, Thompson said. Witnesses have also testified that Robinson, posing as Turner, picked up Bonner's mail from another private mailbox at the Mailroom.
Frank Booth, a DNA analyst with the Kansas City, Missouri, crime lab, said he tested nine envelopes purportedly sent from Bonner to her brother, Larry Heath, and found that eight of them contained Robinson's DNA. Prosecutors allege that Robinson mailed letters to his victims' relatives to make them think their loved ones were traveling overseas when, in fact, he had already murdered them. "The person who licked all eight of those envelopes is John Robinson," Booth testified, in one the day's most dramatic moments.
After prosecutors rested, Judge John Anderson III agreed to throw out a sexual battery charge against Robinson which stemmed from a sadomasochistic encounter he had with a Texas woman shortly before his arrest in June 2000. However, Anderson let stand another charge involving the same incident in which the woman claimed Robinson had stolen about $700 worth of her sex toys.
The woman, who was the prosecution's last witness, testified that she had placed an ad on a sadomasochism web site in the spring of 2000, looking for a man who could satisfy her spanking fetish. "I was seeking a monogamous, long-term relationship with a heterosexual male who had interests like myself," she testified. At the same time, she said, she had recently lost her job doing a psychology residency and working with the geriatric population. Her situation, she said, "was desperate."
Robinson answered her ad and, after corresponding by e-mail and on the phone, he told her he would arrange for her to stay at an Overland Park, Kansas, hotel if she would drive up from her home in Texas to meet him. She also said that he promised to help her set up job interviews with psychiatrists and psychologists and to see about getting her psychology license in Kansas.
"He described himself as a wealthy businessmen and said he'd helped a lot of professional women get started in the area," she told the court. "He said if I came out here he would provide for me for a month or two while I was pursuing jobs and licensure and if we had chemistry, we would pursue a relationship."
She arrived in Kansas City on April 23, 2000, but didn't meet the defendant until the next day. She dressed professionally, she said, because she expected to talk about job interviews. But instead, he immediately asked her if she'd signed the slave contract he had sent. She said there were some things she didn't like but admitted that he agreed she could reword them.
Then, she alleged, he told her that he was divorced and she could move into his five-bedroom home if they had chemistry. "This is how we find out if we have chemistry," he allegedly told her as he proceeded to take off his clothes, stretched out on the bed and asked for oral sex.
While she complied, she said, he pulled out a camera and started taking pictures of her. "I didn't want him to do that," she said. He then moved to a chair, took her by the hair and pulled her down on her knees in front of him. Still gripping her hair, she said crying by this time "He thrust himself in me and thrust my head back and forth until he ejaculated."
As she testified, Robinson's daughter, Christy Shipps, sat in the front row of the courtroom, her hand covering her mouth. She is the only one of his four children who has appeared at the proceedings. At one point, Robinson glanced back at his daughter, gave her a little smile and shook his head, as if to say he couldn't believe what the witness was saying. She smiled back.
Robinson returned to the woman's hotel room the next day, she said. This time, she testified that he grew angry when she didn't take off her clothes quickly enough. He yanked her sweater off and demanded she take off the rest, she said. He then put a leather collar around her neck that was attached to handcuffs he fastened to her wrists. She told him the collar was too tight, she said. "I was afraid," she said. "In BDSM (sex and bondage), you have role playing. But you also have negotiation."
His only reaction was to laugh at her, she said, and to start taking pictures again. "My fear became anger," she said. "I said, 'If you don't stop, I'm going to leave and go back to Galveston." He undid the collar and handcuffs, she said, telling her, "If you want to go back, that's fine. But if you want me to help you, you will do what I tell you to do."
The woman said she stayed for another day and one more sexual encounter with Robinson, in which he slapped her twice, harder than she'd ever been slapped before. "I was afraid," she testified. Afterwards, he told he had to fly to Israel and would send a moving truck to get her things and bring her to Kansas. He also told her to leave her bag of sex toys with him because, as she said he put it, "this is one way to get you back."
She drove home and waited but the moving truck never came. When she told him she had done some checking and there were no flights from Kansas City that connected to Israel, Robinson had an explanation, she said. "He said he was a colonel in the Air Force and he owned a private jet," she testified. Though she wasn't sure whether or not she believed him, the woman said she was so financially desperate she didn't want to give up on the possibility that he might be able to help her with job interviews and obtaining a license.
Not long after, she said, they broke off their relationship but he refused to send her the sex toys. "He said if I continued to harass him, he would take my slave contract and photos to the [psychology] licensure board," she testified. At that point, she said, she called the authorities.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Jason Billam showed the witness several e-mails she had sent to Robinson, one of which quoted her as saying the trysts with him "were pure joy and more satisfying than anything I'd ever encountered."
She still maintained, however, that she didn't consent to several of his advances. In making his argument to the judge, prosecutor Paul Morrison likened her experience to intimidation rape, where no words were spoken but consent is clearly violated, but ultimately lost the argument.
After the prosecution rested Thursday, the defense called only three witnesses who knew or encountered one of Robinson's alleged victims, Suzette Trouten. They seemed to offer no evidence to raise reasonable doubt in the case.
A former correspondent for Newsweek and People Weekly, Sue Miller Wiltz is currently writing a book about Robinson for Pinnacle Books. She is covering the trial for Courttv.com.