Attorneys for Rapides quadruple murderer on death row submit brief for new trial

Darrell James Robinson as he appeared at a 2018 hearing in Rapides Parish. (Source: RPSO)
Darrell James Robinson as he appeared at a 2018 hearing in Rapides Parish. (Source: RPSO)(KALB)
Published: Nov. 14, 2019 at 12:39 PM CST
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An attempt by convicted quadruple murderer, Darrell James Robinson, to get his conviction and death penalty sentence vacated based on claims that he had ineffective counsel and that the prosecution withheld evidence at the time of his 2001 trial, is one step closer to being decided by a Rapides Parish judge.

Robinson fatally shot a family of four in the Rapides Parish community of Poland back in 1996: Billy Lambert; Lambert's sister, Carol Hooper; Hooper's daughter, Maureen Kelly; and, Kelly's infant son, Nicholas Kelly. Robinson was staying with Billy Lambert in exchange for working on his cattle farm. Robinson moved in with Lambert roughly eight days before the murders.

The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed Robinson's conviction and sentence in 2004.

In summer 2018, an extensive hearing was held in front of Rapides Parish Judge Patrica Koch on the matter that was brought up by Robinson's post-conviction attorneys based in New Orleans. Those attorneys claimed that Robinson's original defense attorneys, Mike Small and Danalynn Recer, provided ineffective counsel. And, that the case's original prosecutor, Mike Shannon, committed what is known as a Brady violation - meaning that he withheld evidence. Both Small and Shannon have strongly denied the claims.

Last week, and more than a year after the 2018 arguments, post-conviction attorneys from Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. in Minneapolis and the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana submitted a 114 page post-hearing brief that summarizes the witnesses who testified during the 2018 hearing and the defense's position that Robinson had both ineffective counsel and a prosecutor who did not follow the requirements of the law. By comparison, the state's brief was 44 pages.

The brief outlines several key points including arguments that the State of Louisiana violated Brady v. Maryland, that Robinson is actually innocent, an explanation of why his original counsel was ineffective, and allegations of jury misconduct.

The attorneys call Robinson's conviction a "house of cards." And, that the "State remained laser-focused on Petitioner to the exclusion of all other suspects, ignoring and failing to collect evidence that may have contradicted its theory of the case, and suppressing evidence it knew was exculpatory."

The attorneys also believe that Robinson's trial was "plagued by constitutional violations." They point directly to the state allegedly violating Robinson's due process rights by "failing to disclose its deal with jailhouse snitch Leroy Goodspeed."

As it pertains to Robinson's original trial counsel, the team of post-conviction attorneys believe that they didn't investigate evidence of an alternate suspect, rebut gunshot residue evidence, explain Robinson's flight from the scene, challenge discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson, or present evidence of Robinson's family history of mental health issues.

Robinson's post-conviction attorneys try to blame the murders on another person who knew Billy Lambert and claim that blood found on a jacket belonging to Lambert matches that person.

"All this evidence was available in 1996, but the State ignored it. The State sent the wrong man to prison in 2001. Meanwhile, the true killer has roamed free," the brief states.

The brief even goes as far as stating that the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office "botched" the investigation because the Crime Scene Unit was "inexperienced, under-trained and unsupported."

The brief concludes with arguments against Louisiana's lethal injection protocol and how it violates Robinson's 8th Amendment right and an argument that Robinson has yet to "exhaust his state and federal habeas corpus constitutional remedies."

A decision about the future of the case could be decided by Rapides Parish Judge Patricia Koch in the spring. To read more on the history of the case, click on the "related links" section of this page.

Copyright 2019 KALB. All rights reserved.

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