A Spring Hill woman who admitted to shooting her parapalegic ex-husband in the chest has been sentenced to serve a year in county jail in the segregated barracks reserved for “non-violent” offenders.
As Lagniappe has reported, attorneys representing 69-year-old Melodie Robinson had hoped she would face no jail time at all after pleading guilty to first-degree assault earlier this year. Robinson admitted to shooting her then-husband, retired neurologist Kent Robinson, during a confrontation in 2017.
After the shooting, Robinson turned the same gun on herself, though both parties ultimately survived.
A year later, Robinson was indicted for attempted murder — a charge that came with a possibile sentence of life in prison. However, she was allowed to plead down to an assault charge despite prosecutors’ belief that the shooting was an attempted murder/suicide in the early stages of a contentious divorce.
Robinson’s plea agreement took the potential range of her sentence from 20 years to life in prison down to a maximum of 20 years with a minimum of two. Given the circumstances, Assistant District Attorney Keith Blackwood requested a two-year sentence with eight years of state-monitored probation.
“That’s a decision that was made based on our conversations with Dr. [Kent] Robinson, which took into account their 37-plus years of marriage,” Blackwood told Lagniappe this week. “Obviously, in most cases when there’s a shooting, we’re seeking more time than that, but the facts and circumstances unique to this case called for us to recommend a sentence more in line with what the victim’s wishes were.”
Blackwood said prosecutors always consider the wishes of crime victims and their surviving family members when recommending a sentence to a judge, but said the state is also required to weigh the “interest of justice” against whatever those wishes might be. In this case, he said the “unique circumstances” dictated the state’s recommendation, not the defendant’s standing in the community.
“I thought 10 years split to serve two was a fair sentence,” Blackwood said. “Obviously, [Judge Jay York] sentenced her to less than that, but he’s the judge and he’s the one who gets to impose the sentence.”
During a hearing in July, Robinson’s defense attorney, Dennis Knizley, argued that she shouldn’t face any jail time at all because of her mental state at the time of the shooting. He also focused on her lack of criminal history, her age and the “good will” she has earned in the community over the years.
Several witnesses testified that the Robinsons’ marriage had been stressed for years — allegedly by Kent Robinson’s substance abuse and multiple affairs. Knizley argued that after nearly 40 years of marriage, learning about yet another affair pushed Melodie Robinson into an unhealthy mental and emotional state.
“Not only was Dr. Robinson shot, Melodie shot herself. It was a serious injury she could have easily died from, and that alone should tell you that this person was in a very poor condition,” Knizley said. “Her mental state was not such that she was unable to appreciate guilt or innocence, but it was certainly a situation where you have someone who, at that time, was very mentally and emotionally stressed.”
Speaking to Lagniappe, Knizley said Melodie Robinson had undergone evaluations from two mental health professionals who testified that her mental state has since improved and isn’t likely to deteriorate again. For those reasons, Knizley believes she is “not the same person that shot Kent Robinson that day.”
In the end, it appears the court opted to split the difference.
In an order filed Aug. 27, York sentenced Melodie Robinson to six years in state prison but split that sentence between a year in Mobile County Metro Jail and three years of probation. He specifically noted that Robinson was to be housed in the barracks, which is a separate building across the street from Metro.
Robinson was taken to the barracks immediately following her sentencing hearing on Aug. 27. She was given credit for time served after the initial arrest, which, according to jail records, was less than an hour.
According to Warden Trey Oliver, the barracks are where “minimum security” prisoners are housed include those who are allowed to leave and return as part of the Metro’s inmate worker programs. He said it’s less crowded, and is set up for group dormitories instead of individual cells.
Oliver said there are typically less fights and other issues in the barracks because inmates housed there, in most cases, aren’t charged with violent offenses and don’t have a history of disciplinary issues. It’s designed to hold up to 332 inmates, though Oliver said only around 150 are currently housed there.
While Oliver said the jail staff does what it can to honor judges’ orders like the one York issued in Robinson’s case, he said it’s ultimately up to Sheriff Sam Cochran and the corrections staff to determine where inmates are kept — a decision he said is made with the safety of all inmates in mind.
“The sheriff has the constitutional authority to operate the jail,” Oliver said. “Once an inmate is received here, it’s up to him, or me acting on his behalf, where that inmate is going to be housed or transported.”
Even before Robinson was formally sentenced, the plea agreement she received, the state’s proposed sentence and several other factors about the case raised allegations of preferential treatment due to her socioeconomic status, race and connections to the community and local legal system.
Asked about those concerns, Knizley echoed Blackwood’s sentiments that this case has always been driven by the unique circumstances involved, not the status of the suspect or the victim.
“No matter who my client would have been, under these circumstances, my approach would have been the same, and hopefully we’d have seen the same outcome or better,” Knizley said. “I do not think that Judge York allowed social class or wealth or anything of that nature to enter into his considerations.”
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