Arch “Keith” Robinson took the witness stand Wednesday to insist that he never sexually abused his 11-year-old accuser and that he has no idea why she would maintain he did.
Defense attorney Teresa Grantham asked Robinson, 61, why he would put himself in the position of being alone with two young girls inside a play “fort” they’d fashioned out of bed covers and chairs in the living room of his home in Carthage, where they were to spend the night after enjoying fireworks with other family members on the Fourth of July weekend a year ago.
“Teresa, I was not alone with those girls that night,” Robinson said in his own defense on the concluding day of his trial in Jasper County Circuit Court.
Yes, he had brought his phone to the two sisters so they could watch videos on YouTube before going to sleep, but he stayed outside their “fort,” he said. His wife and an older brother of the girls, as well as an adult brother of their stepfather, were all just a few feet away, watching television in an adjacent room, he testified.
And he at no point crawled into the fort with the girls as both the victim and her sister had testified Tuesday, although he could offer no explanation why they would implicate him to the contrary.
The jury ultimately did not buy Robinson’s claim of innocence, returning verdicts of guilty on both counts he was facing after an hour and 20 minutes of deliberation.
The convictions — for statutory sodomy with a child under 12 years old and second-degree child molestation — carry punishment ranges of up to life in prison and from five to 15 years, respectively.
After the reading of the verdicts and dismissal of the jurors, Judge Gayle Crane set sentencing for Oct. 21. In the meantime, Robinson will be allowed to remain out on bond but under house arrest with electronic monitoring.
Assistant Prosecutor Kimberly Fisher played a video Wednesday of the older sister’s interview a year ago at the Children’s Center in Joplin during which she disclosed that the defendant had inappropriately touched her inside the fort.
“It made me feel very uncomfortable,” the girl, who is now 12, told her interviewer.
Her sister had the phone and was watching a video on one side of her while Robinson was on her other side, groping her, she said.
“So what made him stop touching you?” she was asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
But when he told her sister that she had to give up the phone and go to sleep and he went into another room himself, she retrieved her phone from the room where her brother was watching a movie and sent text messages to her parents and a grandmother, telling them what he had done.
She then went back to the fort and lay down with her sister, not expecting Robinson to return. But he came back and did the same things again, but for a shorter length of time, during which her sister remained asleep, she said.
Grantham tried to cast doubt on the girls’ accounts of the night, pointing out that the victim’s account lacked the sort of details and singularities of description that a credible story has to offer. She offered no adjectives about what had happened. The most descriptive word she kept using in all her accounts was how it had made her “uncomfortable,” a word Grantham thought a child was unlikely to use without it being suggested to them by an adult.
Robinson’s attorney also tried to draw attention to what she considered inconsistencies in the two girls’ accounts.
The defense moved for a mistrial at one point before closing arguments when Fisher, on cross-examination of the defendant about the testimony of a woman the state had called as a propensity witness, asked Robinson if he hadn’t “got away with it” in her case.
The 36-year-old woman had testified Tuesday that Robinson molested her when she was a teen in the 1990s. But she and her mother never went to police about it because she did not at that time wish to see him get into trouble for it, she told jurors.
Grantham objected to Fisher’s question and argued, during a sidebar out of the presence of the jury on her motion for a mistrial, that the question was hugely prejudicial to her client. The judge declined to grant the mistrial but told jurors they were to ignore the prosecutor’s characterization of what had happened in the defendant’s past.
During closing arguments, Fisher told jurors that they were not being asked to convict Robinson for what he allegedly did to the woman more than 20 years ago but for what he did to the girl last year. She said that the woman and the girl have never met, and the woman’s testimony was offered at trial because “their stories are remarkably similar.”
Fisher told jurors the trial boiled down to whom they believed, the girl or Robinson. The girl’s account of what happened has remained consistent over the course of a year, she said, from the text messages she sent her parents that night to the disclosures she made at the Children’s Center a few days later and her testimony in court Tuesday.