Only hours after the arrest of Hiawatha Robinson Jr. in connection with the murder of his 8-year-old daughter Hiawayi, Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich was joined at a press conference by representatives from the multiple law enforcement agencies that contributed to the four-month investigation.
Robinson was arrested just before 1 p.m. today and is being charged with the felony murder of his daughter, who was found deceased by law enforcement in a rural area near Rebel Road in Prichard Sept. 18. He is also charged with an additional count of first degree sodomy.
Many questions about the length of the investigation and the evidence that led authorities to arrest Hiawayi’s father went unanswered, as Rich said discussing them would be “inappropriate at this time.” But according to Rich, both sodomy and felony murder carry punishments of 10-99 years in state prison, respectively. Without a capital murder charge, the death penalty will not be an option in the event of a conviction.
“Her disappearance and murder resonated with our community,” Rich said. “The autopsy report has now been finalized, and the cause of death is homicidal violence and the manner of death is homicide. The facts will show that, while engaging in sodomy in the first degree, Hiawatha Robinson Jr. caused the death of Hiawayi Robinson.”
Robinson is scheduled to appear in court at 10:30 a.m., Dec. 17, for a bond hearing before District Judge Bob Sherling. Rich said the state is asking no bond be granted, but said the decision would be left up to the judge.
When asked, Rich wouldn’t say whether the sodomy was an ongoing activity. According to the Mobile Metro Jail’s database, Robinson has a lengthy criminal history, but none of those charges are sexual in nature.
“We do not anticipate any other charges or arrests being filed at this time,” Rich said when asked if Robinson acted alone. “He has made a statement, but it wouldn’t be proper to disclose the details of that statement or to comment on the facts of the case at this time.”
Rich said Robinson was arrested in Mobile County, but wouldn’t say where specifically — though she did say he did not resist. She also said due to the high profile nature of the case, Robinson is being kept in protective custody at the Mobile County Metro Jail.
When asked about the case’s length and publicity, Rich said it “wasn’t a simple case,” referencing the efforts of officers from the Prichard Police Department, the FBI and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, each of which were represented during the press conference.
“The people behind me are a testament to the sheer manpower and man hours that have been put into this investigation,” she said. “This is something that was a collaborative effort between all these agencies that took quite a significant amount of time. We’re pleased to finally be at the point where we’ve made an arrest, and we’re moving forward in prosecuting him for her murder and for the sodomy.”
Rich said the case would move through the typical court structure, adding that a preliminary hearing was expected in January before the case is heard by a Mobile County grand jury.
Rob Lasky, the special agent in charge of the investigation, said the FBI was “still examining evidence for any federal violations,” and didn’t rule out the possibility of federal charges.
As for the residents of Prichard, some were shocked to hear the news of a family member’s arrests, while others have harbored suspicions for some time.
One Prichard resident named Dell, who did not want to disclose her last name, said she did not know Hiawayi Robinson personally but used to see her around the neighborhood getting on and off the school bus.
Dell, having lived in Prichard since around 1970, added that she has never seen anything like the Robinson murder case happen in the neighborhood surrounding St. Stephens Road, where Hiawayi’s body was found.
“It still hurts my heart real bad,” she said. “It’s been rough.”
Several other Prichard citizens did not wish to speak about the case, stating it was too soon and too sensitive.
However, one other Prichard citizen who spoke to Lagniappe on the condition of anonymity works at a business along St. Stephens Road near the area where Hiawayi’s body was found and said she participated in all of the search efforts executed in hopes of finding the 8-year-old girl.
While she said she was shocked, she admitted that she had a feeling it may have been someone close to Hiawayi who committed the murder, stating her father “showed no remorse (to be) family.”
“I just had a feeling (it was) somebody in the family,” she said.
Now that an arrest has been made, the woman said she hopes the family and community can find closure. Those are sentiments Prichard Mayor Troy Ephriam echoed when he spoke to reporters at the press conference.
“This finally gives Prichard an opportunity to truly heal,” he said. “Know this. This doesn’t feel like a win because it opens the wound of a community that’s been hurt. Even though there’s an anticipation for justice in this process, we’re going to have to continue to pull together as a community to get past this.”
Ephriam said he was confident in the efforts of the law enforcement agencies, including the Prichard Police Department, which has been involved with the case since the girl was reported missing Sept. 16.
Spencer Collier of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said the collaborative handling of this case is example of “the way law enforcement is supposed to work.”
“What today is, is a culmination of countless hours from federal, state and local law enforcement,” he said. “One of the most gratifying things was when I was informed yesterday that warrants were going to be signed. The next most satisfying thing will be seeing this through to a conviction.”
Alyson Stokes contributed to this report.