Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Harvey Robinson: Adolescent Serial Killer


Dr. Robert Sadoff
Dr. Robert Sadoff

During this phase, Robinson once again rejected his attorneys' plea to testify on his own behalf, so the jury heard from other witnesses about his difficult life and multiple juvenile arrests.  One side used them to show his incorrigibility, while the other said that Robinson had been at a disadvantage for most of his life and had not yet had the chance to do better.

"If there ever was a case where the death penalty was warranted," Steinberg was quoted as saying, "this is such a case."  He offered four aggravating circumstances: multiple victims, murder committed during other felonies, torture of the victims (backed up by the pathologist's report from the condition of the bodies), and a history of violent aggression and threats.  This was a man inherently dangerous to society, Steinberg insisted, and he showed nine graphic color photos of the bodies to emphasize his point.

Dr. Robert Sadoff, a forensic psychiatrist, testified for the defense.  He indicated that Robinson suffered from a dependency on drugs and alcohol and had an antisocial personality disorder.  He also had experienced visual and auditory hallucinations, and all of this combined contributed to his difficulty in adjusting to social norms.  It was not unusual to find petty juvenile crimes and aggression among children with these conditions, Sadoff stated, and then suggested that Robinson may have turned to rape and murder to relieve stress.  However, the psychiatrist added, if these young offenders receive help in a controlled setting at an early age, they can improve.  Under cross-examination, he did concede that he would label a person who has killed three times in the manner of Robinson's offenses a serial killer.

Harvey Robinson, after conversion to Islam
Harvey Robinson, after conversion to Islam

Robinson's half-sister, cousin and a friend testified for him as well.  They said that he was a good friend, but his disadvantage lay in having poor male role models, an alcoholic father and an older half-brother who were also criminals.  The imprisoned half-brother, George Robbins, said that he and Robinson had both converted to Islam and now believed in humility and peace.  He begged for mercy.  Marinelli told the jury that pity for victims should not be a factor in deciding whether a person should live or die.

Having the final word, Steinberg reminded them that Robinson had shown no mercy to his victims.  "Say to yourselves," he instructed them, "he was lost a long time ago.  There is no basis for you to save him in this courtroom."

On November 10, with twenty deputies in the courtroom, the jury sentenced Robinson to die by lethal injection.  Relatives of the victims broke down in tears, while Robinson's mother watched him with moist eyes.  Robinson himself showed no reaction; he retained the same blank expression he had worn throughout the trial.  The newspaper reported that during deliberations, the jurors had stood up, held hands, and prayed together to do the right thing. 

Six months later, Robinson was convicted of rape and the attempted murder of the five-year-old girl.  Fifty-seven years were added to his sentences, and 40 more for his July 31 shootout with the police.

Denise Sam-Cali's story became the basis for a television movie, and the other families returned to their business.  But this case was not yet finished.  Not only did it carry automatic appeals, but Robinson figured out some new angles.


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