Friday, 19 January 2007

Governor hears clemency request

Marcus Robinson is scheduled to die Jan. 26.

Published on Thursday, January 18, 2007

Governor hears clemency request

RALEIGH — Gov. Mike Easley should reject Marcus Reymond Robinson’s clemency request, said Pam White, the older sister of the teenager Robinson killed in Fayetteville in 1991.

Robinson is scheduled to be executed Jan. 26. Easley held Robinson’s clemency hearing in Raleigh on Wednesday.

A Cumberland County jury sentenced Robinson to death in August 1994 for the murder of 17-year-old Erik Tornblom.

Wednesday’s clemency hearing was closed to the public. Easley met with each side separately. Lawyers and police officers attended, and family members met later with Easley’s legal counsel.

In their clemency request, Robinson’s lawyers wrote that his sentence should be commuted to life in prison because several problems impaired his judgment and limited his ability to control his impulses:

  • Recent discoveries on how the brain develops show that the part of the brain that controls judgment doesn’t finish developing until a person is well into his or her 20s. Robinson was 18 when he killed Tornblom.
  • Robinson suffered brain damage at age 3 when his father beat him to unconsciousness. Lawyers presented a photo of Robinson with bruises.
  • While serving a prison sentence for assault prior to Tornblom’s murder, Robinson was given Prozac to control his behavior. Prozac sometimes has side effects with the “potential to cause severe, violent and even homicidal behavior,” the lawyers said.

Tornblom’s sister and former prosecutor John Dickson have no sympathy.

“What he did to Erik, I believe he deserves to die for it,” White said. “He knew what he was doing. He made that choice to kill Erik. He didn’t have to kill Erik. He could have robbed him and drove away in his car.”

Instead, Robinson and Roderick Sylvester Williams Jr. shot Tornblom in the head on Legion Road. Tornblom was giving the two a ride while he was on his way home from work.

The next morning, White said, her father, Richard Tornblom, was on his way to the Sheriff’s Office to report Erik missing when he saw lawmen investigating the murder scene.

White said that her father pulled over and said, “‘I’m trying to find my son,’ and showed them Erik’s picture. And they had to tell him, ‘We found your son. He’s dead.’”

“It was basically an execution in and of itself,” said Dickson, who now is a District Court judge. “He was made to lie down on the ground” before they shot him.

When Robinson and Williams when to trial, there was a dispute over which one put the shotgun to Tornblom’s head. Each blamed the other. Dickson argued that it was Robinson.

Williams was tried and received a life sentence in 1995.

He should have gotten death, too, White said.

Dickson and Cumberland County District Attorney Ed Grannis would not discuss details of their arguments to Easley.

In addition to the clemency request, Robinson’s lawyers, Geoff Hosford and Mike Ramos, have asked Cumberland County Superior Court to re-examine his case to give him a new sentencing hearing.

They also asked to have his execution stayed pending a federal lawsuit examining whether North Carolina’s execution practices can cause intense pain.

North Carolina uses lethal injection. Lethal injection uses three drugs: one to make the inmate unconscious, one to paralyze him and one to stop his heart. The heart-stopping drug has been acknowledged to cause severe pain on conscious people.

The lawsuit, and similar such challenges, claim that if too little of the knockout drug is given, the inmate will wake up, feel the pain and yet be unable to move to show what he is going through. Defense lawyers argue that this violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Executions halted

In California, executions have been halted because a federal judge found the execution practices there to be “broken” and that some inmates may have been awake and suffering pain during their executions by lethal injection.

In Florida, executions were halted in December because executioners incorrectly set the needles in the inmate’s arms. The drugs went into his flesh instead of his veins. The inmate needed a second dose to die. According to witness descriptions, the inmate appeared to suffer, and an autopsy found chemical burns in his arms.

Robinson’s mother, church pastor Shirley Burns, has an unusual perspective: She is the mother of a condemned man and the mother of a murder victim.

Robinson’s older brother Curtis Lamar Green was beaten to death in April and his body was left in a ditch. Despite that, Burns said she remains opposed to the death penalty.

“I think when you incarcerate someone in that small cell for 23 hours a day, and only out one hour a day for life, that’s punishment,” she said.

Three men face charges in Green’s death. The one charged with first-degree murder, Brant Sherwood Hunter, does not face the death penalty. Grannis’ office announced that decision last week.

Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at or 486-3512.

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