CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — A southeast Missouri man who has served nearly two decades in prison after being convicted in a woman’s death should be released because his constitutional rights were violated during his trial, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The court’s ruling potentially ends a lengthy and contentious case that began when David Robinson was convicted in the August 2000 killing of Sheila Box, who was shot to death in her SUV after leaving a Sikeston bar. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“My prayers have been answered,” Jennette McCaster, Robinson’s mother, told the Southeast Missourian newspaper in Cape Girardeau Tuesday. “God sent his angels, and it’s like I’m waking up out of a nightmare.”
The ruling comes about three months after Judge Darrell Massey, an independent expert appointed to review the case by the state Supreme Court, cited “clear and convincing evidence” that Robinson was innocent of the crime.
The court ordered Robinson to be released within 30 days unless the Missouri Attorney General’s office decides to retry him. A spokeswoman for the attorney general wasn’t immediately able to say if the office would pursue the case.
Massey was appointed to study the case after an investigation by the Southeast Missourian raised questions about the conviction, particularly the actions of a Sikeston police detective. No physical evidence linked Robinson to the crime and two witnesses who placed him at the scene later recanted. Another man, Romanze Mosby, confessed to the murder to several people in 2004 but refused to sign an affidavit to make the confession official. He killed himself in his jail cell five years later and his confession was never introduced at trial.
Robinson contended he was at a family gathering when Box was shot, and three relatives verified his alibi. Even Box’s daughter, said in March that she believed Robinson was innocent.
The main investigator, Sikeston detective John Blakely, was suspended after Missey’s findings. He remains on the city’s payroll but has been stripped of his badge. Blakely doesn’t have a listed phone number.
The newspaper investigation found that Blakely knew Mosby was a suspect before the case went to trial but did not investigate the lead. In court testimony, Blakely denied that he framed Robinson.
Robinson’s cousin, Betty Sharp, said Robinson broke down on the phone when he was able to share Tuesday’s news with family members.
“He acknowledges his brothers and sisters are hurt and angry how it happened,” she said. “But one thing David has been telling us is not to hold any grudges.”
Robinson’s attorney, Jonathan Potts, said in a statement that the court’s ruling “has not only ended the imprisonment of an innocent man, but has provided a new beginning for David and his family as they can finally be reunited outside the prison walls. In this moment of hope and celebration, however, we do not want to forget the victim of this tragedy, Sheila Box. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family, whose support greatly touched David over the past few months, and we hope that they too can find closure in the court’s ruling today.”
Robinson grew up in Sikeston, a city of about 16,000 people about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southeast of St. Louis. He told The Associated Press in March that he got into plenty of trouble, and a record that began when he was 15 included burglary, drug charges and assault.
But Robinson said, “I didn’t do anything of this magnitude to deserve this treatment.”