2018 Newsmakers: Bob Miller

Thursday, August 23, 2018
Bob Miller and David Robinson’s family and friends talk with Robinson on the phone before departing to the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Sikeston on the day Robinson was released from prison.
Photograph by Kassi Jackson

The evidence was clear: for one, there was no physical evidence. For two, another man confessed to the murder and then committed suicide. For three, the two witnesses who had testified recanted.

Yet Sikeston man David Robinson was held in jail for 18 years, for a crime he didn’t commit.

Robinson was finally released in May 2018. Bob Miller, editor of the Southeast Missourian newspaper, and his team of journalists at the Southeast Missourian have a lot to do with that.

Through rounds of investigation, many document searches and multiple interviews with Robinson, Miller and his team uncovered more and more questions. The case unraveled, Miller says, as he and his reporters kept the story in the public eye, despite pushback.

“If there are reasons why you send an innocent man to prison for life without parole, if there are reasons for that, people need to know those reasons,” Miller says. “When you find out that it’s not just mistakes but it’s intentional acts that happen, it’s a whole other thing. So one thing led to another thing and the more we found, the more concerned we became.”

The story was pivotal to tell, Miller says, because it concerned justice not only for Robinson and his family, but for society as a whole.

“When you’re talking about justice and how we as a nation have agreed to conduct ourselves and what innocence and guilt means and how that is supposed to be pursued — if that is compromised, that can affect anybody,” Miller says.

In the process of investigating the story, Miller became close with Robinson and his family, talking with Robinson once a week.

On the day the family got the news Robinson would be released, Miller is the one who received the email from the Attorney General’s office. He opened it on his phone but didn’t read it, passing it to one of Robinson’s family members to read to the group.

“That was a hugely emotional thing for them,” Miller says. “It was one of the best days of my life. To see a right wronged, to see that emotional release from the family, to see your work come to a meaningful place — it was a day I’ll never forget.”

The story was featured in May on CBS News, with credit given to the Southeast Missourian newspaper. Miller says he had hoped the story would generate more local public outcry and go national sooner, lending weight to the injustice of the case and speeding along Robinson’s release.

Miller says the credit goes to the whole team of reporters who worked on the story over its nine-year duration, including Bridget DiCosmo who first reported on the story in 2009, and Ben Matthews who worked for 30 hours straight on the night of David’s release from prison. Credit also goes to Tyler Graef, Ben Kline, Glenn Landerberg and Laura Simon who did reporting, writing, video and photographic work. And the real heroes, he says, are public defense investigator Butch Johnson who championed David’s cause before lawyers became involved, as well as David’s lawyers, who worked for more than a decade on the case, pro bono.

Journalism is necessary within our society, Miller says.

“When public entities don’t want to look at themselves, journalism forces the public to look at those entities,” Miller says. “Only when that stuff comes out, and only when people start caring about that stuff are changes made.”