Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Career Girls Murders

The Robles Trial

Richard Robles in court, 1965 (AP/Wide World)
Richard Robles in court, 1965
(AP/Wide World)

Never was there a criminal case such as the one that confronted the D.A.'s office on the eve of the Robles trial. Two suspects had admitted to the city's most notorious murders and both defendants later repudiated their own confessions. And in each case, detectives swore to the guilt of the accused. However, the evidence against Robles, which consisted of hundreds of audio tapes and oral statements that he made to the police at the time of arrest, convinced Manhattan detectives that he was the one who had killed Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert.

His trial began in October 1965 on the 13th floor of Manhattan's Supreme Court. The star witness was Nathan Delaney, who testified to Robles' statements made over a period of several months concerning the killings. Delaney told the court that on August 28, 1963, the day of the murders, Robles showed up at their apartment with blood on his clothes and told him and his wife: "I just killed two women." Delaney said he gave Robles clean clothes and then went out to buy drugs with money Robles had given him. Prosecutors set up four loudspeakers in the courtroom and for hours, the jury heard the often-confusing ramblings of drug addicts whose vocabulary was barely understandable to the court. But in that verbal quagmire, it was plain that Robles made statements that implicated him in the Wylie-Hoffert killings.

District Attorney John Keenan was put into the unenviable position of having to discredit Brooklyn detectives who took the original confession from Whitmore. For if Robles was guilty, then the Whitmore confession was a fabrication. Keenan told the court "there are good and bad policemen." It was a thought that was on everyone's mind. Defense Attorney Jack Hoffinger said that after the Whitmore debacle, investigators "had to find another suspect and perhaps save the honor of the Police Department." But when the prosecution called one of the arresting detectives to the stand, he provided the most damaging testimony.

Detective David Downes said that when Robles was questioned about the murders, he admitted killing the girls. "I don't know," Robles was to have said. "I went to pull a lousy burglary and I wound up killing two girls." Downes then asked him, "You mean Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert?" And Robles replied "Yes." Other detectives followed Downes to the stand and testified that they also had heard the stunning confession. One cop said that Robles had broken down and cried. "I don't want to think about it," the police officer said Robles told him. "Please, I want to erase it from my mind!"

It seemed conclusive. But Hoffinger preyed upon the suspicions of police misconduct that were exposed during the prosecution of Charles Whitmore Jr. "If Robles were not an addict," he said to the jury, "do you think he would be on trial in this case? He's a perfect patsy for the police, perfect!"

The jury of eight men and four women retired for a verdict on the afternoon of December 1. Barely six hours later, they returned into court. "We find the defendant guilty as charged!" the foreman announced. In January 1966, Robles was back in the same court to hear his sentence: life imprisonment, but eligible for parole in 26 years. When asked if he had anything to say, Robles replied: "All I can say your honor, is that I did not kill those girls. I'm going to jail for something I didn't do!"

 

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