Judge rejects Robinson’s request

Man who killed son-in-law is denied post-plea relief
Apr. 28, 2013 @ 12:41 AM

A grandfather who admitted to killing his son-in-law — but claimed he did it to protect his grandkids from being molested — was heading back to prison Friday after Judge Richard Vance overruled his motion for post-conviction relief.

Jimmie Robinson pleaded guilty in 2011 to the April 2009 slaying of Jason Hicks outside Hicks’ home. Court testimony indicated Robinson shot Hicks repeatedly in the head while Hicks was talking on a telephone in his carport.

In accepting a second-degree murder conviction and a 171⁄2-year sentence in June 2011, Robinson told Vance, “A big part of why I’m doing this is, this needs to end for my family and the other family.”

He had been facing a charge of first-degree murder and the risk of a life sentence.

On that day, he shook hands with defense attorney Bruce Poston, but Friday he said he believed Poston hadn’t provided sufficient counsel — that his attorney had convinced him he had no good defense against the potential first-degree murder conviction, when what he wanted was a chance to tell the jury why he shot Hicks.

Vance found that Poston provided more than adequate counsel, noting at one point that Robinson’s statements when he accepted the agreement indicated he understood his rights and wasn’t coerced.

“He was very clear, he understood his circumstances and was making a voluntary decision,” Vance said. “Mr. Robinson served himself very well by entering in and accepting the agreement.”

Robinson said he shot Hicks because he believed Hicks might molest his grandchildren. Hicks had faced allegations of abuse but had never been charged, and was set to see them for the first time since the claims arose.

The Department of Children’s Services investigated, and officials there reportedly believed there was evidence of abuse.

But Sevierville Police detectives and prosecutors found there wasn’t enough evidence to move ahead with charges against Hicks, and he was set to have a supervised visit in a public place with the child he’d been accused of abusing.

Robinson said his grandson had talked to him during a walk about the upcoming visit. He maintained that conversation led him to get his gun a few hours later and go to shoot Hicks.

Poston said Friday the only way testimony about the alleged abuse could enter the trial would be if Robinson took the stand. Prosecutor George Ioannides, who also represented the state Friday, had filed a motion to keep information about the allegations from coming up, but he couldn’t keep Robinson from testifying about his reasons for pulling the trigger.

At first, that was part of a planned defense that would have claimed Robinson acted in the heat of passion, making a spur of the moment decision to stop Hicks from being with the children. If successful, that could have resulted in a conviction on a lesser charge than first-degree murder.

However, after reviewing a recording of Robinson’s confession to police and seeing other evidence, he became convinced it wouldn’t work.

Robinson had admitted to going to the house and waiting to shoot Hicks, and the slaying came so long after he learned about the alleged molestations that the attorney said he didn’t believe a jury would buy that Robinson acted without premeditation.

Poston also said Robinson didn’t bring up the conversation with his grandson that allegedly came just before the shooting until after he said they needed evidence of a “triggering event” that could have rekindled Robinson’s rage over the case.

After rejecting the heat of passion defense, he suggested a new direction — he would use statements already in evidence to place suspicion on Robinson’s daughter, Wendi Hicks, the estranged wife of the victim. He said he tried to tell the family that it wouldn’t result in charges against Wendi, and that he believed it would surprise prosecutors and give Robinson the best chance of avoiding a conviction on first-degree murder.

Robinson wouldn’t agree to that, however, and Poston said that left him with little hope he could mount a successful defense.

After the hearing where Vance ruled that no other evidence of the abuse could come up in trial, he started trying to get a plea agreement. Eventually, it reached a point where he and Ioannides talked to the families in an effort to negotiate the time Robinson would serve. He said he was trying to get a sentence that might allow Robinson — then a healthy 67-year-old — a chance to get out of jail and spend a few more years with his grandchildren, while the state was seeking a sentence that would result in Robinson dying in jail.

Those negotiations resulted in the unusual 17.5-year sentence, he said.

Robinson maintained he was convinced by Poston he didn’t have any strong defense to offer in court, but that he had wanted to take the case to trial and have a jury hear his story before Poston convinced him to accept the agreement. His attorney argued Robinson had demonstrated he didn’t understand the agreement or the opportunity to present other defenses.

Ioannides argued there was no evidence that his one-time adversary gave Robinson insufficient counsel.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com