Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Harvey Robinson: Adolescent Serial Killer

The Hearing

Barry Scheck
Barry Scheck

In a seven-hour preliminary hearing on January 6, 1994, the prosecutors laid out the case against Robinson for multiple rape and murder, among other charges.  Eighteen witnesses were called, including Denise Sam-Cali once again, although the trial for her rape and attempted murder would be a separate proceeding.  There were also witnesses who testified to having seen Robinson hanging out near victims' homes. 

D.A. Robert Steinberg led the prosecution while Robinson's family had hired David Nicholls to defend him, and Nicholls immediately questioned the validity of the DNA evidence.  It was a common ploy for defense attorneys in those days, because while DNA analysis had been confirmed as a viable science by this time (with the first U. S. conviction in 1987), attorneys had gained some ground by questioning laboratory corruption and poor handling of evidence.  The O. J. Simpson trial had not yet occurred, but attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld were busy teaching other attorneys how to challenge this otherwise imposing evidence. 

"Nicholls suggested possible problems with the subjectivity of the technicians," Casler writers, "the exposure of the samples to the environment, questionable internal procedures and the fallibility of the test itself."  Another hurdle the prosecution would face in this context would be getting a jury to understand the scientific explanation of this complicated analysis.

Supervisory Special Agent Harold Deadman, with the F.B.I lab, put the specimens through testing, along with specimens from other men in the area with a history of sex crimes, but only Robinson was a match to the samples from the victims.  The state police lab confirmed this with its own tests.  While the prosecution viewed its case as secure, they knew that DNA testimony was tricky.  The first case to be decided involved Denise Sam-Cali.

 

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