Justice for David Robinson

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the release of David Robinson from prison.

The State of Missouri has 30 days to decide whether to retry Robinson for the 2000 murder of Sheila Box.

The High Court ruled that Robinson's constitutional rights had been violated when police and the state prosecution, led at the time by the Missouri Attorney General's Office, unfairly procured and presented testimony they knew to be false.

The court ruled on one of two avenues of actual innocence: the more traditional "gateway" method, rather than a "freestanding" route.

To put it shortly, the Supreme Court said Robinson's rights were violated rather than ruling that Robinson had outright proven his innocence. Only two men have been exonerated with a freestanding claim in Missouri's history.

But there is nothing left to the case against Robinson. Both of the state's witnesses have recanted their testimonies, and there never was any physical evidence that put Robinson at the crime scene.

Unless the state has been withholding a smoking gun that it has not previously disclosed in numerous appeals and opportunities before the court, there simply is no reason to keep Robinson in prison another day, especially when another man confessed to the crime.

Scott County Prosecutor Paul Boyd on Thursday said effectively that Robinson was not exonerated, because the state could continue to hold him and try him again without violating double jeopardy. While technically correct, the Supreme Court has in effect declared Robinson innocent and will now require the state to prove his guilt. With the court's approval of his habeas claim, Robinson no longer has to prove his innocence. Meanwhile, the evidence of the stunningly unjust way the Sikeston Department of Public Safety and the prosecution treated Robinson is there for everyone to see in court documents and this newspaper's extensive reporting on the case. Perhaps some introspection of how the county dispenses justice is in order, or even some contrition toward Robinson and his family are more prudent now than the parsing of the definition of the word exoneration. Maybe it's time for leadership in the county or the city of Sikeston to acknowledge the injustice that has been done. For now, the city of Sikeston has asked for a federal investigation into its past police practices regarding this case, only stating that it respects the Supreme Court's decision. As if it could do anything but.

Robinson's case is a reminder the role our police and prosecutors play in upholding our constitutional principles, and the importance of an impartial appeals system.

It also highlights the importance of attorneys who care about truth and justice. The Bryan Cave Law firm took on Robinson's case pro bono. Congratulations to them for carrying Robinson's torch.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Attorney General's Office has defended the jury's conviction at every turn, perhaps as expected. An exoneration shouldn't come easily, because a jury's decision is essential to our justice system. But it seems like a system that uses our tax dollars to defend a bad conviction for the sake of doing so is not a healthy system.

Judge Darrell Missey, in his scathing review of the handling of this case, quoted a previous ruling, Strickler v Greene, in his report to the Missouri Supreme Court:

"A prosecutor must seek truth rather than victory, 'because the prosecutor is considered the representative of not an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.'"

We couldn't agree more. It's time for the State of Missouri to let Robinson go.

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