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Divorce changed teen's life


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 5, 1998

TAMPA -- A few years ago, before the divorce that caused her father to leave and ripped her from the sheltered world of private school, Valessa Robinson was a "fun-loving, active tomboy," her cousin said.

"She was a sweet, innocent little girl," Laura Klug said. "She laughed, she played. She was a normal child."

The 15-year-old was charged Friday night with first-degree murder in the death of her mother, Vicki Robinson. It's a murder that friends and relatives said followed months of arguing and anger between mother and daughter over Valessa's relationship with Adam Davis, 19.

Davis and Jon Whispel, 19, will also be charged with first-degree murder in Robinson's death, deputies said. Authorities charge the trio killed Robinson, 49, early in the morning of June 27, hid the body, then spent several days visiting friends and getting tattoos before driving across the country.

They were arrested Thursday in Texas. Robinson's body was found Friday in woods about five miles from her Carrollwood home. Valessa was returned to Tampa on Friday night. The two men are expected back within days.

Since Valessa was charged with killing her mother, friends and family have struggled to understand how the pair's relationship could have gone so horribly wrong. The conversation invariably leads to the 1994 divorce of Vicki and Chuck Robinson.

"Valessa was closer to Chuck than she was to her mom," said her maternal uncle, Tom Klug. "So even though the divorce was not a whole "War of the Roses' thing, it was still very hard on her. Her whole life changed."

Valessa's father moved to St. Louis, and she and her older sister, Michelle, stayed with her mom in Tampa. Attempts to contact Chuck Robinson have been unsuccessful.

In the months after the divorce, Valessa moved from the neighborhood where she had grown up, and was pulled from the private school she had attended since kindergarten. She soon fell in with the wrong crowd.

Michelle's friends from the private school, Seminole Presbyterian, noticed a difference in Valessa in the year after the divorce. "She got a lot darker, a lot deeper," said Sarah Keaton, 17. "It just hit her harder than Michelle. Everything changed."

Valessa started public school at Hill Middle School in the fall of 1995. She finished her first year at Sickles High School this year.

It was Valessa's choice of friends, her uncles believe, that led her astray.

"Adolescence is one of the roughest periods of your life," Tom Klug said. "The choices you make, the direction you take, can end up affecting you for the rest of your life. Valessa made the wrong choices."

When Davis went to jail after breaking into an abandoned home, relatives hoped Valessa would either wake up or lose interest. Her interest only deepened.

"While Adam was in jail, she carried this packet of letters from him around that said how much he loved her and how they were going to get married," said Brandy Phillips, 15. "She even wore an engagement ring. I asked her where she got it since Adam was in jail. She said, "I bought it. It stands for us.' "

Vicki Robinson worried constantly about Valessa and her relationship with Davis. But everyone who tried to keep the two apart suffered Valessa's wrath. "If you didn't like Adam, she didn't like you," said another maternal uncle, Kirt Klug.

Lately, Valessa had been consumed with the idea of getting pregnant, family and friends said.

Exasperated, Vicki Robinson had arranged for Valessa to attend a Christian boarding school in Valrico. She was to have started Tuesday.

Smith said Robinson didn't plan to tell her daughter about the school until the last possible minute, partly out of fear.

Vicki Robinson's brothers said they fear Valessa may have overheard her mother's plans, or perhaps intercepted a message from the school on the answering machine. According to the Klugs, Valessa had threatened that nothing would keep her apart from Davis.

"Children make choices -- in their friends, in their activities," Tom Klug said. "Valessa made some very, very bad ones. This should serve as a warning to people. It really happens, and it can happen to anybody."

When Laura Klug heard last week that her aunt and cousin were missing, she dug through old photos until she found her favorite picture of Valessa. In the photo, the normally busy and active Valessa, then about 10 years old, is sitting still. Both of her arms, broken in a fall off a swing, are in casts, one pink, one decorated with dinosaurs.

Staring at the photo Friday, Klug couldn't understand how her cousin could possibly have killed her aunt.

"I look in her face, I look in her eyes," Klug said. "I still just can't see it. I can't see what went wrong."

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