Faithful dog moves from bit part to star
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Enter the latest and most unlikely star of the Valessa Robinson murder saga: Lady the sheltie.
Those with keen memories might recall that Lady belonged to Vicki Robinson, the 49-year-old real estate agent who was murdered in her Carrollwood home by her teenage daughter, Valessa, Valessa's boyfriend Adam Davis, and Jon Whispel.
It was Lady, Whispel told authorities, that growled at him and Davis as they loaded Robinson's body into a van for transport to the woods after the June 1998 stabbing. It was Lady who alerted neighbor Susan Kalupa something might be wrong when she saw the dog roaming free after the murder.
Vicki Robinson, when alive, kept a close watch on the dog.
In the thousands of paragraphs the St. Petersburg Times devoted to the April 2000 murder trial, only a few lines alluded to Lady. But they caught the attention of an Internet-surfing researcher for Busted, an Animal Planet series that features crime stories involving animals.
Series producer Chris Marino and his cameraman were at the Hillsborough State Attorney's office Tuesday, interviewing police and prosecutors who handled the case.
"It's an interesting element to the story, how this dog just sort of roams around and ends up at this next-door neighbor's house, and how she was alarmed because the dog didn't spend a lot of time outside," said Marino, 42, who previously worked on the show Breed All About It, which showcased different dogs.
Other segments of the current show, Busted, have featured maggot analysis as a tool to determine a victim's time of death, and DNA from cat hair that linked a murderer to his victim.
The Robinson case is expected to air in September. The filmmakers will continue filming in Texas this week, where Valessa Robinson, Davis and Whispel were caught after a chase on Interstate 10.
Prosecutor Pam Bondi, interviewed about the case before a stately wall of law books, noted that Valessa had hated her mother's dog and showed a hint of her cruel side in her treatment of Lady. According to family members, Valessa slammed the dog in a door and chased it with a lawn mower.
To keep themselves focused as they prepared for trial, prosecutors hung a photo of Lady in their office.
Valessa, then 17, was convicted in April 2000 of third-degree murder in the stabbing death of her mother and was sentenced to 20 years. Whispel pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison, while Davis was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
Valessa herself owned a pet ferret named Slick. Its whereabouts are unknown.
Vicki Robinson's neighbors, Michael and Susan Kalupa, took care of the dog after their neighbor's murder. Marino, the producer, hoped to get footage of the dog, but learned Tuesday that Lady recently passed away.
"Lady had a good little life," he said. "She was 15. That's a good ripe age for a dog."
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