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Jury will get to hear teenager's confession

Valessa Robinson was "at best a witness to a homicide'' until she confessed to detectives, a judge rules.

By SUE CARLTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2000


TAMPA -- A jury in March can hear Valessa Robinson's taped voice flatly describing how she used a knife to kill her mother on their kitchen floor, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Despite defense arguments that homicide investigators broke the rules when they got the 15-year-old to admit to murder, Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett said Wednesday that the confession can be used as evidence at the girl's first-degree murder trial March 6.

"Miss Robinson is sufficiently mature to have knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently waived her rights . . . before speaking to detectives," the judge said.

Assistant Public Defender Dee Ann Athan took issue with the methods of two Hillsborough detectives who flew to Texas to interview Valessa in July 1998 after deputies caught her riding in her mother's minivan with her boyfriend, Adam Davis, and their friend, Jon Whispel. Vicki Robinson, a 49-year-old Carrollwood real estate agent who had a rocky relationship with her rebellious daughter, had been missing for days.

Athan said investigators gave only "lip service" to the requirement that police contact a parent when questioning a juvenile. Charles Robinson, who was divorced from Vicki Robinson and living in Illinois, did not know his daughter was a murder suspect when he gave permission to authorities to talk to Valessa, the defense said.

But prosecutor Shirley Williams had a different take.

"No one knew what happened to Vicki Robinson," she said. "They went to interview Valessa Robinson not knowing if she was as much a victim as her mother."

Inside a Texas jail for juveniles, Valessa told Hillsborough detectives Jim Iverson and John Marsicano she stabbed her mother, according to testimony. After telling her version of what happened, she was read her rights, given a consent form to sign and then asked to tell it again on tape.

Athan said she believes detectives "cajoled, tricked and coerced" Valessa into making that statement. "These are seasoned detectives. They understood what they were doing," Athan said. But Williams said the detectives carefully took Valessa through her Miranda warnings to make sure she understood them. "They did everything the way it should have been done," the prosecutor said.

Authorities have said her taped story that she alone murdered her mother while the boys were in a bedroom is largely unbelievable. Both Whispel and Davis implicated themselves, with Whispel admitting he handed over a knife after Davis struggled to inject Mrs. Robinson with a bleach-filled syringe. Davis said he took the knife and "just sliced." Valessa, they said, helped pin her mother to the floor. All three told detectives they were high on LSD that night.

In his ruling, the judge said detectives had complied with the law requiring them to contact a parent before interviewing a child and that Valessa was "at best a witness to a homicide" until she blurted out that she had stabbed her mother.

Padgett also ruled that the jury will be allowed to hear the testimony of Elva Pena, a Texas juvenile detention officer who said she thought Valessa was a runaway and tried to console her.

Pena said Valessa told her she killed her mother because her mother did not approve of her boyfriend.

Convicted last year, Davis, now 20, is on death row. Whispel, also 20, accepted a plea deal for 25 years in prison in exchange for his testimony against his friends.

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