After nearly four months without public developments, reactions were mixed when Hiawatha Robinson Jr. was arrested Dec. 16 for the murder of his 8-year-old daughter, Haiwayi Robinson in September. Robinson is also charged with an additional count of first degree sodomy in the case. A day later, he was indicted with separate federal firearms charges.
Hours after his arrest, Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich held a press conference on the case.
Many questions regarding details of the investigation and evidence that led authorities to arrest Hiawayi’s father went unanswered, as Rich said discussing them would be “inappropriate at this time.”
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.”
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 his previous charges are sexual in nature. Still, previous felony convictions prevented him from possessing firearms. When search warrants were executed at his home in October, investigators discovered Robinson was in possession of a 12 gauge shotgun.
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.”
On Dec. 17, District Judge Bob Sherling granted Robinson a $250,000 cash bond on each charge, saying the prosecution’s unwillingness to present evidence tied his hands on the matter.
Sherling said the Alabama Constitution requires anyone who is arrested and not charged with capital murder to be granted a bond, with few exceptions. For clarity, he also held up a enlarged sign containing the specific language he was referring to.
“Even though he’s not charged with capital murder, the Supreme Court has said if it could possibly become a capital murder charge, then I can deny bail,” Sherling said. “Is there evidence to support that?”
Rich said there wasn’t evidence to suggest capital charges currently, and said the prosecution wasn’t yet prepared to discuss the details of the case. The same response was given when Sherling asked if the “sodomy directly resulted in the murder.”
Sherling did allow prosecutors to take more time before the bond hearing proceeded, but Rich denied the offer saying, “During the course of the sodomy, the death occurred. That is exactly how the complaint is charged, but we’re not prepared to go into a hearing on that matter at this point.”
“If you don’t want to offer the evidence to support that, then I’m going to be in a position where I have to set a bond,” Sherling said. “I would have to have some kind of evidence to connect the two (in order to deny a bond).”
With no evidence offered, the state requested a $250,000 cash bond for each charge, which Sherling granted.
Following the hearing, Assistant DA Jill Phillips said the state didn’t want a bond to be granted because they consider Robinson to be a danger to the community and a flight risk. However, Phillips did say, “if a bond is going to be set, that’s certainly a high one.”
As for the lack of evidence, Phillips said her office didn’t want to jeopardize the case by disclosing facts at such an early stage.
“Today was a day for a bond hearing and not for testimony to be taken,” Phillips said. “This has been an extensive, ongoing investigation, and it is still ongoing. There is still investigative work that’s being done as we speak, and because of that, we’re not going to comment on the facts of the case until it’s required of us at the preliminary hearing.”
A preliminary hearing for the murder case has been set for Jan. 5 in Mobile. He pleaded not guilty in federal court for the firearms charges Monday, where the judge also approved a motion for his detention, should he make the state’s bond.
Family on both sides
Immediately after the hearing, Hiawatha Robinson’s mother told Lagniappe she is sure her son was not involved in 8-year-old Hiawayi Robinson’s murder.
“I know he’s innocent,” Merline Howard said. “I know he didn’t do it.”
Howard wouldn’t comment other than to defend her son, saying she was “too emotional” over the situation.
Following the bond hearing, other members of the family — including Hiawayi’s mother Yosha Populus — provided statements through Disaster Victims Services, acknowledging Robinson’s alleged involvement in Hiawayi’s death for the first time.
“Please pray for us, and give us privacy as we now must deal emotionally with the facts of what was done to Hiawayi and knowing now that it was a member of our family who did this to her,” the statement reads. “We would also ask that the community pray for the District Attorney’s office as they prepare to prosecute the killer to the fullest extent of the law.”
According to Tony Dickey, a chaplain with Disaster Victims Services, the family is “devastated” by the situation.
“This has been very traumatic to the family,” Dickey said. “It’s very emotionally traumatizing that a member of a family can do this to another member, and it’s traumatizing to the entire community that anybody could do this to a child.”
Dickey said the family plans to participate in the court process and is supporting the District Attorney’s office “100 percent.” He said Disaster Victim’s Services has been with the Robinson family since Hiawayi went missing and would continue to do so throughout the phases of the trial.