In the first day of Hiawatha Robinson, Jr.’s trial, the prosecution and defense focused on a rainy day in the fall of 2014, the day his 8-year-old daughter, Hiawayi Robinson, was reported missing and two days before her body was found half naked in a trash pile.
“She was only eight days from turning nine years old when she was found in Prichard partially naked and laid out in a trash pile with litter and tires scattered all around her,” Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Wright said. “Her sweet life was cut short — all at the hands of one person. One person that she loved and that she trusted. It was her father, the defendant, Hiawatha Robinson.”Robinson was charged with sodomy and murder in connection to his daughter’s death, which an autopsy from 2014 determined was caused by “homicidal violence.” However, in her opening statements, Wright told jurors there are some things an autopsy can’t determine.
“Positional asphyxia is when weight is pressed down against the chest of another person in a way that causes them to stop breathing and and causes death,” Wright said. “It would only take roughly two-to-three minutes, but it wouldn’t necessarily show up in an autopsy.”
The state has maintained since Robinson’s arrest in December 2014, that “while engaging in sodomy in the first degree, Hiawatha Robinson Jr. caused the death” of his daughter.
In her remarks to the jury on Wednesday, Wright also said two stains on Hiawayi’s shirt tested positive for the presence of semen in a forensic examination, as did swabs taken from the rectal and anal areas.
However, “no sperm heads could be found” in the swabs, which after two separate analyses made a DNA sample impossible to obtain and profile — something Wright said can be affected if samples are left “out in the elements for a period of time” as they were in this case.The same autopsy, according to Wright, showed signs of “healing wounds” that indicated sexual abuse occurred before Hiawayi’s disappearance and death. She said the state plans to call experts in child abuse to the stand to discuss why someone at Hiawayi’s age “might not tell anyone” they were being abused.
On the day Hiawayi Robinson went missing, both sides agree she had talked with her father over the phone about her upcoming birthday. Disputed is whether or not they actually saw one another.
Wright said the state would be showing jurors surveillance footage taken from the Best Future service station on Bear Fork Road on Sept. 16, 2014. Prosecutors said the footage will show a maroon Chevrolet Tahoe that Robinson frequently drove as well some of the last moments his daughter was known to be alive.
“You see that maroon Tahoe and you see it turn in and go into a parking area and out of sight,” Wright said. “Within seconds, you see Hiawayi Robinson come out and walk into the Best Future store, money in hand.”
Wright said video shows an “8-year-old girl whose only care in the world was what kind of candy she wanted.” Then, Wright said, Hiawayi can be seen leaving the store before the maroon Tahoe is seen again traveling down Bear Fork Road.
Some of the evidence that was discussed at Robinson’s bond hearing in 2015 will also be an integral part of the trial including several items that were recovered the area where Hiawayi’s body was found.
At the scene, investigators located two clear plastic beads similar to one found in Hiawayi’s hair at the time. According to family members, Hiawayi had only recently had those type of hair beads put in.
A piece of black duct tape was also found in the same vicinity. After a search of Robinson’s maroon Tahoe, investigators found a similar clear plastic bead and a similar roll of black duct tape. On Wednesday, Wright said tests performed at the FBI’s crime lab in Quantico, Virginia determined both the tape and the bead had identical physical and chemical compositions.
The defendant’s phone records on and around the day his daughter went missing were also briefly covered at the opening of the trial. According to Wright, Hiawayi’s body was found near an abandoned body shop owned by Sheridan Davis — a place Robinson had been previously employed.
“(Sheridan Davis) is good friends with the defendant, and in fact, phone records will show he talked with him on the phone a couple of times the night of (Hiawayi’s disappearance),” Wright told the jury.Finally, Wright said the prosecution would focus on Robinson’s “demeanor, actions and statements” during the first days of his daughter’s disappearance and subsequent murder investigation. Wright said Robinson often seemed agitated by questioning, and at one point, had to be placed into a police car because of his behavior.
The FBI seized surveillance video from the home Robinson shared with his girlfriend, Tasha Parker, and according to Wright, the footage shows the defendant returning home around 7 p.m. on the night of Hiawayi’s disappearance carrying some type of dark clothing before heading immediately to the laundry room.
Wright said the cameras also captured Robinson making several trips back and forth to his Tahoe the same evening.
In all, the state is expecting a long trial to include testimony from those close to Hiawayi as well as multiple expert witnesses, but Robinson’s defense attorney, Jeff Deen, believes none of them will tie his client to the 8-year-old’s “horrific death.”
Deen said surveillance video from the Best Future gas station shows a car similar to the one Robinson drove but never shows Robinson. He also said finding duct tape in “a working man’s vehicle” wasn’t much to hang a felony murder case on.
Instead, Deen spent his first day focusing on the safety of Hiawayi’s neighborhood and the apartment complex where she lived. According to Deen, “it’s a known drug area, there’s sex offenders living there, and there have been murders.”
As for Robinson’s demeanor with police, Deen admitted his client was upset about being questioned, but only because he thought it was a waste of time — pointing out that Robinson voluntarily complied with searches of his vehicle and at multiple properties he frequented.
“You may see a man with a bad attitude, or you may see a man who’s frustrated and saying, ‘why don’t you go find my daughter instead of talking to me?’” Deen told the jury.
Deen also claimed authorities used information garnered from their initial interviews of Robinson to charge him with additional federal crimes. Robinson, a previously convicted felon, was found in possession of a Harrington & Richardson 12-gauge shotgun during a search of his home in October 2014.
He pleaded guilty to that charge, but Deen said authorities found out about the gun after Robinson told them he and a group of friends had “gotten their guns” and gone to look for someone who might have taken his daughter.
“So what’d they do? They charged him for being a felon in possession of a firearm,” Deen said. “They gave him 30 months in federal prison. That’s what he got.”
While Deen agreed there may be evidence that Hiawayi was abused, he said there’s no indication she was afraid of or had issues with her father. He also claimed there were other men around her who her mother and grandmother never mentioned to police during the investigation.
“They got along fine,” Deen said of Robinson and his daughter. “There was no signs of trouble with him and her, no signs of any kind of predatory activity and no examples of him taking her off somewhere or anything like that at all.”