A mother, a daughter, a murder

The Valessa Robinson Case

A Tampa teenager is going on trial, accused of killing her mother. What happened in this case in which so little seems to make sense?

[Photo courtesy of Jim Englert]

Vicki and Valessa
Part One: The Great Divide
They left her in the woods. They had a place in mind, beside a canal, down a dirt road and into the trees, and they put her in the minivan along with the shovels and took her there. (4/9/00)

Part Two: Mad Love
Taken from their cells in Texas in the middle of the night, Valessa Robinson, Adam Davis and Jon Whispel tell their stories of the night Vicki Robinson disappeared. Soon, their bonds of loyalty to one another are tested.

Part Three: Valessa in the Tower
Jury selection begins with a litany of questions. But unspoken in the courtroom is the central question: How did a mother and daughter come apart?

Part Four: Before & After
Before, she was a niece who loved to fish. After, she was a 17-year-old, sitting in a courtroom for the second day, watching her attorneys try to pick a jury.

Part Five: Opening Fire
On the third day of trial, 12 jurors are seated. The defense attorney has a blunt message for them: Valessa is an innocent victim, one who has been manipulated and abused.

Part Six: The lost boy
One more time, Jon Whispel tells his story of the night Vicki Robinson died. The defense attacks, looking for holes.

Part Seven: Missing persons
Jon Whispel finishes his testimony and disappears from view. After five days of trial, he is not the only person out of sight.

Part Eight: The Girl in White
The state rests, the defense prepares on the sixth day of trial. But will the jurors hear Valessa testify?

Part Nine: Words Unspoken
The jurors knew the trial was nearing its end. But would they get to hear more about what happened the night Vicki Robinson died?

Part Ten: Judgment Day
The question of what Valessa did the night her mother died goes to the jurors. Six hours later, they stop for the day. They will return this morning.

Part Eleven: The Vigil
Valessa waits. The prosecutors wait. So do the defense attorneys, families and friends. What is happening in the jury room?

Part Twelve: A Lesser Degree
The boyfriend had been sent to death row. The friend who turned had gotten 25 years. Now the jurors had to decide what to do with the girl at the center of it all.

Post-Trial Coverage:
'Dear Journal ...It's me, Valessa'
Even before she met her boyfriend, she was writing of drugs, sex and escape. [4/25/00]

Pre-sentencing Coverage:
The Valessa Strategy
How did it all turn out this way? Why was Valessa Robinson convicted of third-degree murder, while her boyfriend wound up on death row? [5/29/00]

Inside the Jury Room
Within minutes of the jury retiring, it was clear the defense had planted several seeds of doubt over Valessa's role in her mother's murder.

The Punishment Day
Twenty years in prison, the judge said. "Any questions about that?'' he asked Valessa. "No sir,'' she replied.

Valessa: I didn't kill my mother
CBS devotes 48 Hours to the Valessa Robinson case. The teen declares her devotion to mom but criticizes her parenting. [10/12]

About this report

The St. Petersburg Times is providing expanded coverage of Valessa Robinson's first-degree murder trial.

Why so much coverage of one trial? Because the Robinson case encompasses powerful themes that run through the lives of many families: the struggles between teenagers and parents, the stresses of divorce, the problems of drugs and teens, the efforts of single parents to start over.

In delving beyond the matters being debated in the courtroom, the Times seeks to give a fuller portrait of this case and of the issues that have led so many readers to follow it.

Valessa Robinson's trial is expected to last about a week.

The case at a glance

Vicki Robinson, a 49-year-old real estate agent and divorced mother of two teenagers, vanished from her home in the Tampa suburb of Carrollwood on June 27, 1998.

[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Valessa Robinson during a bond hearing in Judge Walter Heinrich's video court room on Thursday, July 9, 1998. Bond was denied.
Police soon focused their investigation on Mrs. Robinson's 15-year-old daughter, Valessa, who had disappeared, too. Mrs. Robinson had been struggling to keep control of her rebellious daughter and was concerned about her new boyfriend, Adam Davis. Davis, 19, recently had spent six months in jail for theft and burglary.

Six days after Vicki Robinson's disappearance, Valessa Robinson and Adam Davis -- along with 19-year-old Jon Whispel -- were arrested after a high-speed chase on Interstate 10 in Texas. The next day, Mrs. Robinson's body was found in a garbage can in woods a few miles from her home.

Whispel reached a deal with prosecutors and turned against his friends. He said that on the night of the murder, he, Valessa and Adam had taken LSD. As they sat in a Denny's restaurant talking about what to do, Valessa suddenly suggested they kill her mother. Inside the Robinson home, Davis attacked Mrs. Robinson and stabbed her, Whispel said, adding that at one point Valessa held down her mother.

Whispel pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Late last year, Adam Davis was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

The Jurors Here are the 13 jurors selected.

View an archive of previously published Times stories about the case.

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Browse the Guestbook that was open during the trial

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