The Plot Thickens

More tales of slippery snitches, pearl-handled guns, and the shell casing that grew on the lawn

When Robinson headed back to court in January to stand trial for the robbery, Moriarty again sought to call Edwards as a witness. This time the judge agreed to allow the informant's testimony as well as information about his background. Moriarty says staffers at a halfway house where Edwards was staying following court-ordered drug treatment turned back her subpoena twice; by the time sheriff's deputies showed up with a court order on January 26, Edwards was nowhere to be found.

As it happened, police picked up Edwards two days later, but he still wasn't available to testify in Moriarty's case: Unbeknownst to her, the Washington County attorney a week earlier had charged him in the armed robbery for which Robinson was being tried. Now, Edwards could not be forced to take the stand and potentially incriminate himself. (Just how Washington County suddenly decided to resurrect the robbery case is unclear. Richard Hodsdon, the prosecutor handling Edwards's drug charges, says he was asked by his Hennepin County colleagues to take a look at the earlier case.)

In the end, Edwards's absence didn't cripple Robinson's defense. She had two other witnesses who had not appeared in the murder trial, and whose stories seemed to exculpate Robinson: One, Adairan Davis, testified that in the hours following the robbery, four men had asked him to broker a crack deal--Edwards, a juvenile he was later arrested with, and two adults. One of the men, Saint Slaughter, was carrying a .25 with a pink pearl handle, Davis said.

If the order of Dameion Robinson's two trials had been reversed, he might be a free man
If the order of Dameion Robinson's two trials had been reversed, he might be a free man

Slaughter had played a pivotal role in Robinson's murder trial: He'd found the victim's body and, after the robbery, told police that he'd seen Robinson brandishing the pink-pearl-handled .25 that police believe was used to commit both the robbery and the murder.

Slaughter's story was also the source of some of the contradictions bothering the juror who later phoned Moriarty. Testimony at the trial had shown that during his first police interview, Slaughter didn't mention seeing a gun at all. During a second statement, he described seeing Robinson with the gun in his kitchen and asking him to put it away because there were kids in the house. Much later he gave a third statement in which he said Robinson had fired the gun in his front yard.

Minneapolis Police Department ballistics experts had testified at both of Robinson's trials that they had searched Slaughter's yard with a metal detector capable of distinguishing the denomination of a coin buried a foot underground. Nothing was found. But hours later Slaughter called police and announced that his cousin had found the shell casing. When the officers returned, he led them to a bare patch in the middle of the lawn where the casing--a match for the spent shell found next to the murder victim's body--lay in plain view. The gun, described as a relatively rare "ladies'" make, was never found.

Moriarty's other witness was Orpheus Hicks, who told the jury that he had been one of the men riding with Edwards in the car the night of the robbery; the other two, he said, were Slaughter and a juvenile. Robinson--who according to Edwards had made his confession during that same car ride--was not there, Hicks said.

Moriarty calls the acquittal "a wonderful thing" for her client, given that "the evidence about the robbery was the reason for his conviction in the murder trial." The attorney handling Robinson's appeal of the murder conviction, Roseville criminal defender Michael Cromett, says he can't yet discuss the matter. But other appeals attorneys question whether the issue of Spriegl evidence--the use of testimony about the robbery to convict Robinson of the murder--could overturn Robinson's conviction.

Under Minnesota law, Robinson's murder conviction doesn't have to be thrown out simply because he was acquitted of a related offense, says Scott Swanson, an attorney in the state public defender's office who has taught seminars on Spriegl evidence. More relevant to an attack on his murder conviction, he says, might be the testimony at the robbery trial putting the pink-handled gun--the weapon supposedly used in both crimes--in someone else's hands. "The overall situation has to smell bad to a judge," he says. "If on a gut level a case feels bad, you're more likely to get some relief."

Until the appeal is heard, Robinson is scheduled to keep serving his prison sentence at the state correctional facility in Oak Park Heights. But on the day his trial concluded, Moriarty says, Robinson was at least momentarily a happy man: Elsewhere in the rose-colored Hennepin County courthouse, the guy who had snitched on him was getting ready to face a judge. "There is justice after all," Moriarty quotes her client as saying.

 

News intern Dan Gearino contributed to this story.

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