A murder sentencing in Madison County Court was interrupted Friday afternoon as the defendant went on an extended rant against the court and his own attorney, who then requested to be removed as counsel.
Turhan Robinson, 39, formerly of Jennings, Mo., was convicted in November of first-degree murder and armed robbery in the death of Kenneth Deal. Robinson and Terrence Lee were accused of trying to rob Deal of marijuana on May 19, 2014, and shooting him in their car, then dumping him out at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Third Street in Madison.
Both men fled prior to their arrests. Robinson was eventually apprehended in Las Vegas, then escaped a private prisoner transport service en route back to Illinois. He slipped away from the transportation van at a Colorado truck stop, and was later recaptured by U.S. marshals and brought back for his trial.
Robinson faced up to 75 years in prison on the murder charge and up to 30 years on the armed robbery charge.
Defense attorney Steve Griffin argued several motions, including allegations that excusing one juror on the second day of the trial may have affected the jury, and that one of the witnesses subsequently was charged with robbing a store after the trial was over. Madison County Associate Judge Neil Schroeder denied the motions.
During his statement, Robinson turned to face the family and said he was sorry for their loss, but that he did not kill Deal.
“My feelings were not toward you, it was for these people,” he said. “There’s a lot that has not been said in this trial… They really wanted a conviction for me, but I didn’t kill your son.”
He got down on his knees, still facing the family, and said he was “very, very, very, very sorry” for their loss, but maintained his innocence.
Then he turned to Schroeder, and said he believed the judge was “vindictive” against him.
“I’m not going to disrespect you because I honor this court; I just do not honor you,” Robinson said. “Whatever sentence you give me today, my heart knows I did not kill anyone.”
Robinson went on at length arguing he was innocent and the case had been stacked against him with what he called circumstantial evidence. He criticized the prosecution, the police, the judge and his own attorney, stating they were not seeking the truth.
“I didn’t kill your people,” he said, turning back to the family. “These people are so deceitful; this is what they do.” He repeatedly alleged that Griffin did not try to save him and did not ask the questions he should have on cross-examination.
I’m not going to disrespect you because I honor this court; I just do not honor you. Whatever sentence you give me today, my heart knows I did not kill anyone.
As Robinson finished, he said he was going to save the rest of his argument for his appeal. “I’m trying to keep my emotions in check. I’m not the ignorant black man you’re trying to portray me to be,” he said. “I didn’t kill no one, and I certainly didn’t kill no one over no damn weed.”
Afterward, Griffin made a motion to withdraw based on Robinson’s expression that he was dissatisfied with his services. “Clearly he feels he’s received inadequate assistance of counsel,” Griffin said.
Robinson had repeatedly fired attorneys and tried to represent himself during his trial. Griffin had been appointed to the case by the court.
The court went into recess for about 15 minutes to allow the judge consider the issue. Schroeder then asked Robinson to put his complaints about Griffin in writing for a future hearing and ordered the sentencing delayed until the issue could be addressed.
Deal’s family expressed frustration at the delay, which means they would have to return on another day to watch the sentencing. “We’re ready to get this over with,” said Deal’s sister, Brittany Williams.
Before Robinson’s statement, prosecutor Katie Wykoff had called two of Deal’s family members to testify about the impact his death has had on the family.
His sister, Brittany Williams, said she sobbed at the hospital when told her brother had died.
“My brother was everything; he was my family’s everything,” Williams said, beginning to cry. “I forgive you, and my family forgives you. But that doesn’t take away the hurt, the pain and the stress that you caused.”
His other sister, Tammy Williams, said her brother is in a better place, but she asked Robinson to apologize and come to peace with himself.
“I am missing my brother calling me ‘big forehead,’” she said. “I pray your family don’t give up on you.”
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said no matter what, Robinson faces a minimum of 56 years in prison on his convictions.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of antics and nonsense he spews in court, he’s not going to avoid being sentenced to prison for over half a century,” Gibbons said. “No matter how much he cries and complains in court, or throws himself to his knees, he’s going to prison.”
Lee was arrested in St. Louis and extradited to Madison County. While awaiting trial on multiple counts of murder, attempted murder of police officers, armed robbery and aggravated kidnapping, Lee attacked and killed a fellow inmate, 61-year-old John Newsome Sr., in what officials described as a “completely unprovoked” and “brutal” beating. Newsome had just been arrested over the weekend and was being held pending formal charges of domestic battery and possession of brass knuckles by a felon.
Lee later pleaded guilty to Newsome’s murder, and his murder charge in Deal’s death was reduced to armed robbery in return for a guilty plea. Lee is now serving a 50-year prison sentence.