ST. LOUIS — Witnesses have recanted. Another man has confessed. Now, a man who was convicted in 2001 of killing a woman in his Missouri hometown is awaiting a decision from the state's highest court that could determine whether he will be released — and finally get to spend time outside of a prison visitors room with a college-age daughter who was just a baby when he was first arrested.
It will be up to the Missouri Supreme Court to ultimately decide whether 49-year-old David Robinson will go free after a special master appointed to review the case ruled last month that his first-degree murder conviction should be tossed out. In doing so, Judge Darrell Missey cited "clear and convincing evidence" that Robinson "is actually innocent of that crime."
It's not clear when the Supreme Court will rule.
Robinson is anxious to get out, but feels a sense of relief that someone in authority finally believes him. He thinks about his daughter, now a college student, and about being able to spend time with her and other relatives.
"It ain't been no easy task," he said in a phone interview from the state prison in Jefferson City. "It's been rough on me."
But he feels good now. "I'm in a good frame of mind. I'm praying they'll go along with his recommendation," he said.
Robinson was convicted in the August 2000 killing of Sheila Box, who was shot to death in her SUV after leaving the Sikeston bar she and her fiancee owned with $300 in cash and checks. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Missey was appointed to review the case after an extensive investigation by the Southeast Missourian newspaper in Cape Girardeau called into question the actions of a Sikeston police detective.
"You sit back and you think: How can David Robinson still be in prison?" said Charlie Weiss, the attorney handling Robinson's appeal. "This is a very compelling and overwhelming case of actual innocence."
In a court filing Friday, the Missouri attorney general's office cited several "erroneous" findings in Missey's ruling. But it wasn't immediately clear whether charges would be refiled if the conviction is thrown out. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Hawley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Robinson grew up in Sikeston, a city of about 16,000 people about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southeast of St. Louis. He admits that he got into trouble plenty of times. His extensive record dates to age 15, with crimes that included burglary, drug charges, and assault.
But, Robinson said, "I didn't do anything of this magnitude to deserve this treatment."
No physical evidence tied Robinson to Box's killing. Two witnesses connected Robinson to the crime, but they have since recanted. Another Sikeston man, Romanze Mosby, confessed on tape in 2004 that he was the real killer. Mosby, who killed himself in 2009, never signed an affidavit confirming his confession, and judges refused to allow it as evidence.
Robinson claimed he was at a family gathering at the time of the shooting, and three relatives backed him up in testimony.
"When I first got arrested they did gunshot residue, DNA, fingerprints," Robinson said. "It showed I didn't have any connection to this crime. My whole case was based on fabricated and inflammatory evidence."Comment on this story
The investigator, Sikeston detective John Blakely, was placed on administrative leave after Missey's ruling. Blakely does not have a listed phone number and a phone message seeking comment from Sikeston police was not returned. In court testimony, Blakely denied allegations that he framed Robinson.
In his court filing, Hawley disputed Missey's finding that Blakely "ignored or suppressed facts" to tilt the investigation toward Robinson.
The city of Sikeston has asked U.S. prosecutors to review the investigation.
Robinson's mother, Jennett McCaster, said she never doubted her son's innocence.
"I want to hug him, I want to kiss him," McCaster said. "I want to just enjoy life with him and not have to see him behind a wall and in handcuffs."