After seven days of painful testimony, photos taken during 8-year-old Hiawayi Robinson’s autopsy proved too difficult for many members of her family to sit through.
While many left the room, those who stayed seemed visibly upset — including the defendant, Hiawatha Robinson Jr. As the prosecution moved through hundreds of pictures, the man accused of murdering his daughter began to cry in the courtroom.
Dr. Eugene Hart, an examiner with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, performed the autopsy the day after Hiawayi’s body was discovered along Rebel Road in Prichard.
Hart testified for the prosecution on Thursday and said Hiawayi’s body showed signs of both chronic and recent sexual abuse. He also confirmed the state’s theory that she had died from positional asphyxiation, though he admitted that cause of death is commonly unable to prove.
According to Hart, positional asphyxiation occurs when a person’s body is placed a position that prevents them from being able to breathe adequately. Commonly, it occurs when the chest isn’t allowed to expand and contract to take in oxygen, according to Hart’s testimony.
On the stand, Hart said the victim’s body showed few signs of external distress other than slight bruising on the scalp. However, the early stages of decomposition made certain parts of Hart’s autopsy difficult, specifically when examining for signs of sexual assault.
Hart testified there were signs of recent injury in the vaginal area that were inflamed, which he said wouldn’t occur unless there had been some type of injury before the victim died. During defense attorney Jeff Deen’s cross examination, there was a lengthy section of testimony about injuries Hart observed in the victim’s rectal area.
Hart said he couldn’t confidently say whether those injuries were caused from recent sexual assault, and because one of Robinson’s two charges is first degree sodomy, Deen appeared to press Hart on issue.
However, Hart wasn’t the only pathologist the prosecution called Thursday. Dr. Adel Shaker, an expert witness who has testified in cases across the United States, went into more detail on those and other findings from Hart’s autopsy.
On the stand, Shaker testified that the autopsy documented signs of “remote and recent sexual assault” in the victim’s the vaginal and anal area. He also concurred with Hart’s conclusion that positional asphyxia was the likely cause of death.
Aside from the autopsy, most of the testimony Thursday came from FBI agents who conducted numerous searches of Robinson’s vehicle as well as the homes of his relatives and girlfriend.
Called to the stand, FBI agents Steve Sorrels, William Kennedy and Danny McKinley testified about several items in the mountain of evidence they collected. However, Deen spent a large part of his cross examinations asking agents why their investigation seemed to focus solely on Robinson.
“We were looking for items that would help us find Hiawayi,” Sorrels said when Deen asked why the FBI never conducted searches at her mother’s home or at the homes of at least two men she was thought to be associating with at the time.
During the questioning, Sorrels confirmed the FBI never conducted extensive searches the St. Stephens Woods apartments where Hiawayi lived with her mother and where a known sex offender was believed to frequent.
However, they did search two of Robinson’s vehicles, his mother’s home in Prichard and a home in Semmes owned by his girlfriend, Tasha Parker. In fact, the Tahoe Robinson was driving the day his daughter went missing was actually searched on three separate occasions, all of which Robinson agreed to without a search warrant.
In the first search of the vehicle on Sept. 18, 2014, Kennedy testified that agents recovered multiple pieces of duct tape and took samples of a material that was seen on the doors, which agents believe was some type of chemical cleaner.
Later the same day, Hiawayi’s body was discovered along with two clear plastic beads that had come loose from the ones she was wearing in her hair when she was killed. McKinley testified that a second search of the Tahoe the following morning uncovered a matching bead that was found in the track of the rear seats.
Shortly afterward, Robinson was interviewed by FBI Agent Ketrick Kelly. In a recording that was played earlier in the trial, Robinson told Kelley there was a bead found in his truck because his girlfriend frequently had “all kinds of beads” in the vehicle and in her home in Semmes.
However, when the FBI conducted a search of Parker’s home on Oct. 2, no hair beads were observed or documented in multiple rooms. On the stand, Kennedy said he was aware at the time that Hiawayi’s beads might be significant to the investigation and said he would have documented them had any been found in the house.
Deen however, pointed out that the warrant authorizing the search of Parker’s home listed several items that the FBI was looking for including cleaning supplies, men’s clothing and candy wrappers. It did not, however, mention anything about hair beads.
Because no photos from the search showed open drawers, Deen suggested the agents were only looking for beads that were out in the open. McKinley however, said that wasn’t the case and said every drawer in the house was searched.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Wright also used McKinley’s time on the stand to address an odd theory Deen suggested in the trial last week.
At the time, he said Hiawayi’s body appeared to have been positioned into the shape of a “7.” There was also “a cross” made of two pieces of wood found in the area, which when considered together, made Deen question whether her killing could have been part of some kind of satanic ritual.
McKinley testified that he’d previously worked cases oversees that were believed to have been tied to Satanism, and said that wasn’t the case with Hiawayi Robinson’s murder, adding that the “the cross” was simply “two 2-by-4s.”
“This was nothing but a dump scene,” McKinley said. “They took that child and threw her in the trash.”