Insight on reporting the 'Life Without' series

Today, our newspaper begins a series of stories on the murder conviction of David Robinson.

It is a long story. We will present it over four days in print, and in six parts in video.

Robinson was convicted of shooting Sheila Box on Aug. 5, 2000.

Our investigation began, in some respects, in 2009, when the case was first brought to the attention of a former Southeast Missourian crime reporter, Bridget DiCosmo. We reported that the law team that helped exonerate Joshua Kezer had taken on Robinson's case. Some six years later, reporter Ben Kleine began examining the case further, exploring new evidence and testimony that had come to light. And the more he dived into the case, the more questions arose about the conviction.

Now Robinson's case lies before the Missouri Supreme Court.

In short, Robinson was convicted because of three things: The testimony of a man who was in police custody for theft; the testimony of a man in prison at the same time as Robinson, who said he overheard Robinson admit to the killing; and the inconsistent testimony of Robinson's own alibi witnesses. Because the alibi witnesses' stories didn't match up on specific times and whereabouts, they were considered not credible by the jury. Robinson, who had numerous run-ins with law enforcement officers, including fighting them, was convicted of Box's murder in 2001 despite no physical evidence being presented at trial.

This story is likely to stoke emotions.

Those who know Robinson personally are deeply affected.

After our investigation into this case, the facts and post-conviction evidence offer a compelling argument that Robinson is innocent. Both men who testified against Robinson have since recanted under oath. The star witness told the assistant attorney general who is handling the case, that he was willing to spend up to 30 years in prison to come clean and send Robinson home. It's complicated, though, because when this particular witness was called on to recant years earlier, he stuck by his original story. The jailhouse snitch, who testified against Robinson in court, also recanted and when reached in prison by Kleine earlier this summer was surprised that Robinson was still in prison. But most importantly to Robinson's proclaimed innocence is the fact that another man confessed to killing Box. A confession was recorded, but it was not done so under oath, and there was no sworn statement. It was verified by several other inmates whom he told, including his stepfather. But it was not allowed to be presented in appeals because it was declared hearsay. That confessed killer, who claimed he thought Box was going to shoot him in a drug deal, committed suicide after reading DiCosmo's story that a law firm was getting involved.

While stories will appear in print each day through Wednesday, you can read and watch all of our materials right now at semissourian.com/lifewithout.

So where does this case go from here and where does our reporting lead us?

Robinson's case is before the Missouri Supreme Court. And there are legal complications that have stood in the way during Robinson's appeals process.

As more cases of wrongly convicted people come to light, media and other organizations are beginning to examine systemic issues that cause problems in bad convictions. Sometimes there are prosecutor errors, such as not passing along important information to the defense, known as a Brady violation. Sometimes juries put too much stock into witness testimony and their recollections, which can be fuzzy sometimes more than a year after the actual event. If memories don't match up, seasoned prosecutors can easily discredit witnesses. Sometimes people simply remember things wrongly. Sometimes the systemic problems stem from the police investigation and so-called tunnel vision of focusing in on one suspect rather than considering other possibilities.

In Robinson's case, there appears to be no prosecutorial misconduct, but some of these other issues appear to be at play.

Having published a video trailer last week promoting the series, some were already speculating that this is a case about race. Our investigation did not delve into any type of race relations in the city of Sikeston. A witness wrote in a letter that when Robinson was younger, Robinson made his claims of racism widely known.

However, in this particular case, it's difficult to reach that conclusion based on what we know. For example, Kezer was convicted of a murder he did not commit, and he is white. It was a different police department that investigated that crime, a different prosecutor, but it was in the same county and some of the themes are strikingly similar. Jailhouse snitches recanted in both cases, where there was no physical evidence.

So as you read and view our "Life Without" series, be careful about jumping to conclusions. Were mistakes made? It looks that way, and Robinson appears to be paying the price. If the confessions and recantations are true, Robinson's in prison primarily because three men sold him out, two lying under oath to better their own situations, and another man who pulled the trigger sat back and let justice burn. Our justice system depends on truth. In the end, all three men came forward with their recantations and confession, and now it's up to Missouri's highest court to clean up the mess. If it chooses to do so.

A jury of Robinson's peers found him guilty, but as more information has emerged it appears that justice was not served. The reasons why are more complex than anything that can be drawn from a 2-minute video trailer.