Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Harvey Robinson: Adolescent Serial Killer

Legal Issues

Robinson decided that his trial attorneys, Carmen Marinelli and James Burke, had failed to tell him the importance of testifying in his own behalf, hurting his chance for a fair trial, so he insisted that he get an opportunity to redress the harm done to him.  He requested a hearing to challenge his convictions and sentences.  However, Marinelli stated to reporters that during the trial, Robinson had refused to testify, despite their attempts to get him to do so.

Attorney Philip Lauer
Attorney Philip Lauer

In November 1998, Robinson's new attorney, Philip Lauer, challenged Robinson's convictions at a post-sentencing hearing, on the grounds that there were fundamental flaws in the trial procedures.  Among them was the fact that Sam-Cali's testimony had been admitted, when she had not even recalled being sexually assaulted until after a detective had hypnotized her a month later.  And there were problems with that procedure: The hypnotist had learned details about the assault prior to putting Sam-Cali into a trance.  There was a possibility that he had suggested details to her and she had incorporated them into her memory.  There was research to show that such things occurred.  In any event, Robinson's defense attorneys were not notified of this procedure and thus did not have the chance to test Sam-Cali's memory independently.  Indeed, she apparently had initially identified someone else, and had even believed that a former employee had assaulted her.  That person had not been included in a line-up with Robinson.

As Lauer and his secretary walked out after the hearing, friends and relatives of Denise Sam-Cali subjected them to name-calling. Apparently they were afraid that Lauer might raise issues that could free Robinson.  Some members of her family were even asked to leave the courtroom.  Sam-Cali herself shouted insults at Robinson and his mother, as reported Ron Devlin in the Morning Call.  Nevertheless, this behavior did not erase the problems with legal protocol, and the judge knew he would have to weigh them carefully.

Other issues that Robinson raised involved a racially biased jury selection (because they were selected based on having a driver's license), an error in allowing the three murders to be jointly tried, and an error in not changing the venue.  Then on November 24, to the surprise of many, Robinson got his day in court. 


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