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One of trio charged in mom's death makes deal

In exchange for a guilty plea and his testimony about Vicki Robinson's death, Jon Whispel avoids the electric chair.

Jon Whispel confers with his attorneys, Brian Gonzalez, left, and Brian Donerly, right, in a Hillsborough County courtroom on Tuesday. [Times photo: Tony Lopez]

By SUE CARLTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 1999


TAMPA -- His murderous tale, which began with a plan hatched over LSD and orange juice at a local Denny's and ended with an arrest in a small Texas town, took about an hour to tell in a prosecutor's office Tuesday.

In his baggy jail uniform, a pale and bespectacled Jon Whispel recounted the graphic details of the night he helped murder his friend's mother last June. He told authorities that Vicki Robinson's own 15-year-old daughter, Valessa, helped hold her mother down in a violent struggle on the kitchen floor. He said that when Valessa's boyfriend, Adam Davis, tried to use a syringe to inject Mrs. Robinson and finish the job, Whispel handed him a knife.

"Here," Whispel said he told Davis, "use this."

Whispel, who along with Davis faced the death penalty in Mrs. Robinson's murder, instead agreed Tuesday to testify against his co-defendants and former friends. After telling his story to prosecutors Tuesday morning, Whispel stood before a judge, pleaded guilty to reduced charges of second-degree murder and grand theft and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

"He didn't minimize his role in Vicki Robinson's death in the slightest bit," said Brian Gonzalez, one of Whispel's attorneys.

"He's certainly not thrilled to be getting out of jail at (age) 40 at best," said defense attorney Brian Donerly. "But he's realistic enough to realize it's the best alternative."

Prosecutors said they were satisfied that Whispel, 20, had told the truth. His testimony is expected to significantly strengthen their cases against Valessa, who turned 16 in jail this year, and Davis, 20. Both are scheduled for trial in the fall.

But Davis' lawyer, Rick Terrana, said he doesn't expect a jury to consider Whispel's story any differently than they would that of "any jailhouse snitch who sold his soul to save his life."

"Desperate people do and say desperate things," Terrana said. "This guy just talked his way out of the electric chair."

Authorities say the strange and senseless death of Mrs. Robinson, a 49-year-old real estate agent and suburban single mom, centers on the intense relationship between her daughter and Davis. Friends and family said the sullen and rebellious Valessa vowed she would not be separated from Davis, a charismatic drifter with a string of arrests. Whispel, described as a follower, was their constant companion.

In an interview with the Times last year, Whispel said the threesome was sharing a booth at Denny's last June and tripping on acid when Valessa said "Let's kill my mom." At the Robinson's Carrollwood Village home that night, he said, Davis filled a syringe with bleach. Mrs. Robinson, who woke up to find Davis and Whispel there, was attacked in her kitchen.

Tuesday, Whispel described her struggle and admitted that he grabbed the fold-out knife Davis had left in Valessa's bedroom and handed it to Davis to use. Mrs. Robinson was stabbed several times.

In a particularly chilling detail, Whispel described how the three sat silently smoking cigarettes together afterward, only to hear Mrs. Robinson gasp one more time. Whispel told prosecutors that Davis commented that the "b----" would not die.

Authorities said the threesome spent the rest of the night meticulously cleaning up the murder scene. Mrs. Robinson's body, still wearing her peach nightgown and crucifix, was shoved into a plastic garbage can that was dumped in the woods.

They spent the next few days using her credit cards, doing drugs and hanging out in Ybor City before publicity about Mrs. Robinson's disappearance sent them fleeing across the country in her minivan, investigators say. They were arrested after a chase by the sheriff and deputies of Pecos County, Texas.

Whispel will be taken from the county jail to state prison to begin serving his sentence but will be brought back for Davis' trial, scheduled for Aug. 16. before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway. The trial for Valessa, who because of her age faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, will be scheduled sometime after that.

Tuesday, the judge reminded Whispel that his original charges would be reinstated should he fail to truthfully testify. He nodded.

"He wants this done," Gonzalez said.

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