The trial of Hiawatha Robinson Jr. resumed Wednesday morning after the defendant was taken to the hospital on Aug. 30 when he collapsed just before court began.
The jury wasn’t informed of Robinson’s hospitalization, though Presiding Circuit Judge Charlie Graddick gave some details for the record in their absence.
According to Graddick, Robinson was discharged in good condition, all of his tests were regular and doctors found no evidence of him hitting his head or of any other wounds on his body.“Almost as soon as he was admitted, he stated that he ‘started to feel much, much better.,’” Graddick said from the bench. “The diagnosis suggested whatever the experience was likely due to anxiety, which I can understand that.”
In the sixth day of the trial, prosecutors played an interview with the defendant conducted by state and federal agents which included a list of evidence they were said to have gathered against him at the time. The trouble is, they were mostly lying.
Ketrick Kelley, a special agent with the FBI’s violent crimes division, was one of those agents.
On Wednesday, he spent time discussing a 2 hour-and-36-minute interview of Robinson he conducted along with an Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent on Sept. 21, 2014 — an interview defense attorney Jeff Deen suggested was more like an interrogation.
At the time, investigators had received surveillance video taken from the Best Future gas station capturing footage of Hiawayi and a maroon-colored Chevrolet Tahoe prosecutors believe her father frequently drove.
That footage has been a key piece of evidence for prosecutors, who’ve said it suggests Robinson’s vehicle was at the Best Future when cameras captured some of the last moments Hiawayi was known to be alive.
However, in the recording, Kelley told Robinson the FBI’s lab in Quantico, Virginia had enhanced the footage and matched the license plate on the Tahoe to Robinson. Testifying on the stand, Kelley admitted that wasn’t true.“I can’t say that’s my truck, there’s hundreds of trucks out there,” Robinson said in the recording. “She couldn’t have been with me. You can fingerprint the truck or do whatever you gotta do.”
For more than two hours, Kelley and ABI Agent Jack Wilson repeatedly told Robinson they knew his daughter had gotten into the vehicle with him on the day she was reported missing.
On the stand, Kelley said agents are permitted to use false information as “an interrogation tactic,” though at the time the interview began Robinson was never informed that he was a person of interest.
For that reason, Deen tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to prevent the interview from being presented as evidence to the jury. After court adjourned Wednesday, he told reporters he felt the agents were “trying to get a confession” out of his client.
“They don’t have a video or an eyewitness of the girl getting into the car,” Deen said. “They were acting like they did to try to get him to make a statement against his interest.”
During the interview of Robinson, Kelley also falsely suggested location data recorded on a cellular phone tower “put him near” where Hiawayi’s body was discovered in the early hours of Sept. 17, 2015.
During cross-examination, Deen reminded jurors during the times Kelley mentioned in the recordings, Robinson was also interviewed by the Prichard Police Department — something a previous witness for the prosecution corroborated.
As Deen pointed out, Robinson was consistent throughout the lengthy interview, repeatedly stating that Hiawayi “never got in the truck” with him. He also said if he told the agents what they were wanting to hear, he’d be “telling a lie on [himself].”
“I love my daughter to death. I’d die and go to hell for her. That’s all I’m saying,” Robinson said. “You say you zoomed in on the tag, right? You can’t zoom in through the window and see who’s in there?”
In the recording, Kelley also claimed there was some “bodily fluid” detected in the back of Robinson’s Tahoe, which he stated was believed to be vomit at the time.
He asked Robinson if there had been some kind of accident that made Hiawayi sick — suggesting she could have ingested “beer or purple drank” and vomited. He speculated that perhaps Robinson had panicked and tried to cover up whatever made Hiawayi sick.
Robinson said nothing like that happened, adding that if it had, he’d have “taken full responsibility” and immediately taken his daughter to the hospital. He then reiterated that his daughter was never in his vehicle on the day she disappeared and said that the substance in his Tahoe was likely “some old seafood” he’d had back there.
Pressing on the theory, Kelley told Robinson he may not get another chance to talk to the authorities before “things progressed” in the investigation.
“Nobody thinks you’re a baby killer Hiawatha. If there was an accident, just tell us,” Kelley says in the recording. “We’re trying to prevent the evidence from piling up and looking bad. Whoever did this, she’ll forgive them.”
In response, Robinson said, “one thing about it, she knows her daddy didn’t do it.”
During Deen’s cross-examination, Kelley testified that he didn’t know if any vomit had actually been found in Robinson’s Tahoe at the time he conducted the interview, adding he had only been told there was something that “looked like vomit.”
He later stated he didn’t know if any body fluids had been detected at all.
When asked, Kelley confirmed that Robinson was “definitely a person of interest” at the time of his interview, though he wasn’t placed under arrest and was free to go at any time he chose to.
Even as the minutes turned into hours and investigators told Robinson they didn’t believe his story, he never left and never requested the services of an attorney. Instead, he repeated close to a hundred times that his daughter “couldn’t have got into the truck with [him],” saying, “If I’d seen her at the gas station that day, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
Near the end of the recording Kelley and Wilson told Robinson they didn’t believe his story and had hoped they could use the interview to help him “get ahead of the game.” In response, Robinson said, “get the results of the tests and then get back with me.”
“I ain’t going nowhere,” he added. “I ain’t go no reason to.”