Harvey Robinson: Adolescent Serial Killer
BY Katherine Ramsland
On the morning of June 9, 1993, the police investigated a suspicious incident in Allentown, Pennsylvania. A woman on East Gordon Street, waiting for her Morning Call newspaper, had looked out her window and seen the newspaper cart abandoned between two parked cars. It was uncharacteristic of the carrier, Charlotte Schmoyer, to be negligent, so the woman phoned the police. They called Schmoyer's supervisor, who had not heard from her and could not locate her, and then began to search the area. They found the girl's bicycle abandoned as well, along with her portable radio, which gave them clear cause for concern. She was also not home, only blocks away.
A few hours later, D.A. Robert Steinberg accompanied the police as they followed a tip to a wooded area at the East Side Reservoir. They discovered a trail of blood leading from the parking lot and Steinberg noted a discarded shoe. The tip was looking productive. Then one searcher located the 15-year-old's body in the woods, covered with dead leaves and several heavy logs. Apparently her killer had grabbed her unnoticed early that morning. No one had seen the incident, but a resident recalled a light blue car in the area, as stated in the Allentown Morning Call, while someone else reported a blue car at the reservoir. (It may have been one or the other, because accounts report both but no single source indicated both.)
An autopsy revealed that Schmoyer had been raped and stabbed 22 times in the back and neck before her throat was slashed open. Three superficial cuts indicated that a knife had been held to her throat during her ordeal. It seemed that her attacker had killed her while in the act of raping her. After careful inspection of the remains, a pubic hair was found on Schmoyer's navy-blue sweatshirt and a head hair on her knee; these were preserved for later comparison with a suspect.
There were no real leads, aside from the blue car, and no clues from the scene of the abduction or murder, so this shocking crime went unsolved. Residents wondered if the girl had known her abductor or if the incident had involved a stranger's random attack. If the latter, then they were all vulnerable, despite the fact that the neighborhood had long been considered to be quiet and safe. He could strike again.
The F.B.I., with an office in Allentown, offered the services of its Behavioral Sciences Unit, although no one then realized they may have had a serial killer in the area. By that time, the BSU had had some success with devising profiles based on a single incident, although Kristin Casler of the Morning Call indicates that they did not actually do one for the Allentown murder. They would have reason later to get more fully involved.
Schmoyer was actually the second victim in a series of murders, abducted near where the first one had been stalked and attacked. In fact, it would later appear to be the case that on the morning of the Schmoyer abduction, this offender had returned to the scene of his earlier crime, possibly to relive it. He had spotted Charlotte, the kind of tall female he preferred, so he'd grabbed the opportunity. He had just driven into the area when he saw her, so he pulled over to the curb. Watching her ride her bike innocently toward him as she attended to her paper route, he jumped from his car to overpower her and force her into his trunk. With this unexpected prize, he drove away, well aware of what he had done to another woman close by.
Harming the Innocent
Joan May Burghardt
Joan May Burghardt, 29 and suffering from a mental illness that required assisted living, had reported that someone had entered her apartment by cutting through a screen door. She assured her parents that she would be more careful about locking her doors and windows, but two days later, on August 9, 1992, she was unaware that a man watched her through a window as she began to undress. She entered the living room with some milk and cookies, and suddenly the man tore through the front window screen and came at her, smacking her so hard in the head he knocked her glasses off and spattered the wall with her blood. Although trapped, she managed to run past this intruder and get to a room where she pounded on the wall and screamed for help. In fact, a neighbor on the floor above her heard her but declined to do anything.
The intruder turned on the television, increasing the volume over her screams. Other neighbors reportedly heard this, but no one intervened or asked her to turn it down. The intruder bludgeoned Burghardt with a blunt weapon until she fell to the floor and kept hitting her in a rage, delivering some thirty-seven blows to her head. The impact was so hard that he drove strands of her hair into the skull fractures. Once he was certain she was dead, he looked for a pair of her panties in a drawer and then used them to masturbate over her prostrate body. He also tore open the panties she wore. (Some sources indicate that he raped her as well, but others contradict this.) When he was finished, he went out a back door, leaving the television on. Despite the fact that he was covered in blood, he walked through a field and went to his home about four blocks away.
Soon he was detained for another crime and sent to juvenile detention. When he got out eight months later, he attacked Charlotte Schmoyer. After that, as the summer days grew longer and hotter, he escalated his rampage.
Allentown Pennsylvania map
Denise Sam-Cali, 37, lived on the East Side of Allentown, not far from where Schmoyer had been abducted, and she usually walked a mile each morning to the limousine and bus service she owned with her husband, John. She learned only later, writes Fred Rosen in Cosmopolitan, that a young man had spotted her, noticed that she matched his victim type, and followed her. He didn't make a move just then, but he noted where she lived.
Denise and John went away for a few days and returned on June 17. To their annoyance, they found the back door of their home slightly open. John went inside to look around, but saw no immediate evidence of a burglary. Nevertheless, someone had clearly been there, as a whiskey bottle had been moved and they found a dirty footprint on the couch. This disturbed them. Then John thought of something. He went to check his gun collection, which he kept in a special bag in the closet. Opening the closet door, he was stunned to discover that the bag was gone. He called the police.
For protection, John quickly purchased two more guns, including one that Denise could learn. The police were not able to locate the stolen collection, and the fact that someone not only had those guns but had also entered their home left the Calis with pervasive feelings of fear and violation. Denise did her best to learn how to shoot. She hoped she'd never need to defend herself in this manner, but she wanted to feel safer. They had reason to grow even more worried when another incident occurred in the neighborhood.
On June 20, the same intruder who had been at the Cali residence entered the home of a woman he'd been watching. However, he found her in bed upstairs with her boyfriend. Apparently he decided not to risk confronting a male, but he may have felt frustrated that he'd broken in and had nothing to show for his effort. At any rate, he clearly looked around on the second floor and, in another bedroom, he spotted the woman's five-year-old daughter asleep. The intruder moved fast, choking the child into unconsciousness and carrying her by her neck downstairs. She revived and tried to scream, but he dumped her headfirst into a laundry basket of towels and dirty clothes and raped her. Then he choked her again and she passed out, so he may have thought she was dead. He left the residence and went home, just two blocks away.
Early the following morning, the girl woke her mother to tell her what had happened, so the woman's boyfriend checked downstairs and found a screen from a window removed. The victim's mother saw small hemorrhages in the child's eyes, a sign of asphyxia, and bruises that indicated she had been choked and hit in the face. She took her to a doctor, who found that she had been choked to the point of bursting blood vessels and had been sexually attacked.
With one victim taken outside and three victims inside their homes, the Allentown residents were alarmed. More people locked their doors and windows, despite the summer heat, but that did not stop the marauder. After a month went by, he struck again. Since he had already seen this next victim out walking, had liked the look of her and had already been inside her home, he decided it was time to make his move. He apparently knew just when to strike, an indication that he had been watching and waiting for this moment.
Denise Sam-Cali was home alone on June 28 because John was on a business trip. It was possible that he would be home some time during the night, he had told her, but he was not sure. She had come in late after visiting her aunt down the street, so she was ready to go right to bed. Although she had practiced with the new gun until she was able to hold it steady, she still did not feel very safe. Two incidents of violence against women in her neighborhood that month, along with their own break-in, made Sam-Cali nervous. Opening the bedroom window to let out some of the hot air that had collected during the day, she undressed and crawled under the sheets.
But she was restless and unable to sleep. She lay in bed listening to the night noises outside and hoping that John would come home. If he were there, she would feel much better. Suddenly she caught her breath. She held still and listened. She was sure she'd heard something inside the house that sounded like crackling paper. She strained to hear better, and then sat up. "Who's there?" she shouted, hoping whoever it was believed he had entered an empty house, like before, and that he would be startled and decide to just leave. But the place was silent. No sound of a departing burglar. Aware that if it were John, he'd have made his presence known, her stomach lurched with dread. She knew she was not alone.
Deciding she'd be safer with a neighbor, Sam-Cali jumped out of bed, grabbed a comforter to cover herself, and ran down the hall. To her horror, she spotted a man emerging from a walk-in closet with a knife in his hand. Racing away from him, she went for the door, but he reached her and grabbed her arm. He tried to stab her in the face, cutting her lip, but she knocked the knife away and struggled to get out. He still had a firm grip on her arm, but she managed to break free, get outside and run. On the lawn, the man caught her by the hair and threw her to the ground. She tried to scream but nothing more than a gurgle came from her. This intruder was adept at pinning a woman while he got ready to rape her, and as he assaulted her, he strangled her. She later recalled being punched four times in the face, but not much else. Sam-Cali bit her attacker and cried out, but he choked her until she went unconscious.
Then a neighbor who heard the commotion turned on an outside floodlight, which frightened the attacker off. Sam-Cali regained consciousness and managed to crawl back into her home and call 911. The police arrived and took her to the hospital. It was clear from her injuries that she would need hospitalization and possibly plastic surgery on her cut lip. She let the nurses process her with a rape kit for evidence, although she was not even certain she'd been raped. They attended to her bruised face and the clear strangulation marks on her neck, and she was aware how lucky she was to be alive. Her assailant had certainly intended otherwise. The police soon found the knife he had grabbed in the Calis' kitchen; it was wrapped in a napkin and left behind on the floor of their home. For them, life was going to take a dramatic turn.
John arrived and was horrified to learn what had happened. He made immediate plans to secure their home, but insisted that Denise stay with one of her relatives in the neighborhood. When she was able, she gave the police a description of her attacker: his eyes had been intense with rage and desperation ... and they had seemed evil. He'd been white, about five-foot-seven, muscular, young, and clean-shaven. It would take a session with a hypnotist to help her to recall enough details from that night to realize that he had indeed raped her.
When the newspaper reported that Sam-Cali had survived the attack, she knew she would never be safe in her home as long as this killer was out there. He would certainly be afraid that she would recognize him, and given the fact that most of his assaults were in the area, it was likely he lived there. For all they knew, he was only a few houses away.
The Calis installed a burglar alarm system, and they soon proved to have been correct in their assessment: the intruder managed to break in again. One day, the new Colt .380 automatic handgun, left on a table, turned up missing. But during the night of July 18, someone set off the alarm and left in haste by the back door. The Calis had guns drawn and ready, but they did not see the intruder that night. However, they found several things missing in the morning, including some luggage. (By some reports, there was only one break-in, and during that one the handgun was stolen.)
The D.A. believed that the rapist would certainly revisit the home again to silence the witness, and he wondered if he could work this likelihood to an advantage. It would mean that the Calis would have to remain in the home, vulnerable, to lure him back, but they would have police protection every night. The plan was proposed, and they bravely accepted. Denise Sam-Cali was not only determined to have this man caught, but she also wanted to be free of the unrelenting nightmares she'd been having since her attack. This man, she believed, had victimized her and would continue to exert power over her until she took it back. According to Rosen, she figured that if the intruder managed to break in and get past the police guard, she'd be ready to blast him with her own gun.
Officer Brian Lewis received the assignment to stay in the home during the night to watch for the intruder's return. However, he'd already moved his hunting ground a mile away as he looked for his fifth victim.
The intruder had spotted another overweight white woman, and he followed her until he saw where she lived. Jessica Jean Fortney was 47, and she lived with her grown daughter, son-in-law, and their seven-year-old child. On July 14, these three were asleep on the second floor, with loud fans cooling the place, when the man came in and attacked Fortney in the living room, breaking her nose with a weapon. Then he raped and strangled her, leaving her blood-covered body on the sofa beneath a blanket. He knew the area well because he had lived in this neighborhood as a boy, so he was able to escape.
But there was a witness. Fortney's grandchild had seen the assault from her bedroom. Her description matched what Denise Sam-Cali had said about her own attacker. While detectives still had few clues to assist their investigation, they believed that the same person who had attacked the other women in the area had killed Fortney. They looked for associations among the victims, such as belonging to the same club, but came up empty, so it appeared that the killer was choosing women at random — the toughest kind of crime to solve.
D.A. Steinberg realized they had a dangerous serial rapist-killer at large in Allentown who was striking quickly and often. Without clues, they had to look at the crimes, and there were important similarities among at least four of them. They had all been committed in the same general area, three of the victims were large, buxom women, and except for the newspaper girl, they were all attacked inside their homes, after the offender had entered through a window.
No doubt the next attack would come within the month, if not the week. The police could only hope the killer would make a mistake and try yet again to kill the one woman who had survived. Their greater fear was that he would begin to roam a larger area, as his latest crime suggested. Allentown was close to the urban communities of Bethlehem and Easton, as well as having proximity to a cluster of smaller towns within a fifteen-minute drive. If the killer had a car, as he seemed to, and was feeling the heat, he might just go farther out, making their job tougher still.
But then they got a break: He wasn't as smart as he clearly believed, and on July 31, he made a major miscalculation.
Lehigh Valley Hospital
Two weeks had passed, and each night officers stayed inside the Cali home. No one knew if this plan would pay off, but they continued to watch. Then, around 1:30 a.m., Officer Lewis heard a noise: Someone was prying at the patio door. A few moments later, the front door handle jiggled, but did not give way. This was it: Someone was trying to get in. Lewis knew that some of the windows were open to make it easy to enter, and they were near lamps left burning, so he waited. A hand reached in through the living room window, wearing a black glove, and deftly removed the screen. Lewis crouched, ready to shoot. He pressed a button on a radio handset through which he could notify back-up without giving himself away and sent the emergency message. Help was on the way.
The window was quietly eased open and a thick-bodied man dressed in black shoved himself over the frame and into the room. He was young and short, just as Sam-Cali had described, and he was quick.
"Halt!" Lewis shouted as he rose to show himself. "Police!"
Harvey Miguel "Miggy" Robinson
Though taken by surprise, the intruder sprinted past Lewis toward the dark kitchen and reached for a gun on his waistband. Lewis shot at him, but he kept running and returned the gunfire, forcing Lewis to take cover and shoot again. Lewis then stepped out and shot several times toward the kitchen, but he missed and the intruder managed to shoot at him again. Because he needed to reload, Lewis went to the bedroom to reassure the couple, and they could all hear the intruder banging on the deadbolted back door and kitchen walls, trying to get out. All reports agree that the house was literally shaking. Lewis instructed the Calis to stay out of the way as he prepared to face the desperate gunman. He was aware that backup had arrived and knew they would be circling the house, but suddenly the place went quiet.
Lewis edged cautiously toward the kitchen, uncertain what to expect and keeping his loaded gun drawn. As he drew closer, he anticipated that the guy might spring out at him or fire from some dark area, although, he too, may have emptied his gun during the shootout. Perhaps he was just hiding. Lewis neared the door to the kitchen, tense, his heart pounding, but when he still heard nothing, he wondered if the intruder had found a way out. Then he saw it: Several broken windows on the wooden door. The man had managed to force his way out and slip away, despite the officers who circled the house, although he'd left a lot of blood behind on the door. Lewis thought that perhaps he'd winged the guy.
Calls were quickly made to the consortium of Lehigh Valley hospitals to be on the lookout for anyone coming in with a bad cut or a bullet wound. This was the closest the police had come to nailing this offender, and they were excited. They were going to get him. It was just a matter of time, perhaps minutes.
Several hours went by without a word, but around 5:30 a.m., a young man showed up at the ER at Lehigh Valley Hospital to get his cuts treated. His arm and leg were bleeding badly. He seemed to realize that he'd walked into a trap, because he made for the exit without talking to anyone, but he was stopped before he got away. That was the end of the line for him, and the Calis were notified. There would be no more intrusions from this man into their home.
Lewis went to the hospital and quickly identified the man being held as the person who had shot at him hours earlier in the Cali residence. His name was Harvey Miguel "Miggy" Robinson, and he lived in the East Side vicinity with his mother, Barbara Brown. He was only eighteen, and he insisted he was innocent.
Robinson was booked and arraigned on multiple charges, including breaking and entering, burglary, aggravated assault and attempted homicide. He was held in lieu of $1 million bail. On September 3, Denise Sam-Cali testified at his hearing that she could identify Robinson as the man who attacked her and she fully described her ordeal. He was represented by Denise Dickson, and he sat throughout the hearing with a glare on his face. Other evidence against him included Officer Lewis's identification, a bite mark that Sam-Cali claimed to have made during her assault, black gloves found in his bedroom at his mother's home, and the .380 handgun stolen from the Calis, along with casings that matched those from bullets fired on July 31 in their home.
Dickson claimed that there was nevertheless no proof that Robinson had intended to kill anyone. In addition, she said that there was no proof that Robinson had entered the home on July 19, though he was in possession of the gun that was taken at that time. "I can rob a bank six times," she said. "That doesn't mean if the bank is robbed a seventh time I did it."
The police nevertheless worked hard to find evidence for the trials. They searched two cars, a light blue Ford Tempo GL belonging to his mother, which was similar to the car seen in the neighborhood when Charlotte Schmoyer was abducted, and Robinson's gray Dodge Laser SE. His blood was in both, indicating that he had driven both at different times on the night of the shootout, after he was cut. The cars were processed for fingerprints and other evidence.
For his arraignment, Robinson wore a bulletproof vest. Police had learned that that between the Burghardt and Schmoyer murders, eight months apart, Robinson had been institutionalized for burglary, but had no history of mental illness. Investigators believed that he had either known his victims or had stalked them in some manner before raping or killing them. He may have burglarized Burghardt's apartment a few days before he killed her.
In December 1993, just after Robinson turned 19, the papers announced that DNA tests from his blood samples linked him via semen to the three rape/murders and the two rapes. In addition, his blood and hair were found on Schmoyer, and both the little girl who survived and Denise Sam-Cali identified him as their attacker. Investigators did not believe he was responsible for any other murders in the area, but Special Agent Dennis Buckley of the F.B.I.'s Allentown office said that he fit the behavior of a serial killer, according to the Bureau's definition. Three separate victims with a cooling-off period was the norm, and Robinson had likely intended to kill the two survivors. He had also used the same modus operandi, breaking into a home, choking and bludgeoning the victim, raping her, and leaving her dead or nearly dead. The child was an aberration, probably due to the fact that Robinson's intended victim — her mother — was with a man. From what investigators knew of his brash and brutal behavior, apparently precipitated by anger, they believed Robinson would certainly have escalated his violence.
In a seven-hour preliminary hearing on January 6, 1994, the prosecutors laid out the case against Robinson for multiple rape and murder, among other charges. Eighteen witnesses were called, including Denise Sam-Cali once again, although the trial for her rape and attempted murder would be a separate proceeding. There were also witnesses who testified to having seen Robinson hanging out near victims' homes.
D.A. Robert Steinberg led the prosecution while Robinson's family had hired David Nicholls to defend him, and Nicholls immediately questioned the validity of the DNA evidence. It was a common ploy for defense attorneys in those days, because while DNA analysis had been confirmed as a viable science by this time (with the first U. S. conviction in 1987), attorneys had gained some ground by questioning laboratory corruption and poor handling of evidence. The O. J. Simpson trial had not yet occurred, but attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld were busy teaching other attorneys how to challenge this otherwise imposing evidence.
"Nicholls suggested possible problems with the subjectivity of the technicians," Casler writers, "the exposure of the samples to the environment, questionable internal procedures and the fallibility of the test itself." Another hurdle the prosecution would face in this context would be getting a jury to understand the scientific explanation of this complicated analysis.
Supervisory Special Agent Harold Deadman, with the F.B.I lab, put the specimens through testing, along with specimens from other men in the area with a history of sex crimes, but only Robinson was a match to the samples from the victims. The state police lab confirmed this with its own tests. While the prosecution viewed its case as secure, they knew that DNA testimony was tricky. The first case to be decided involved Denise Sam-Cali.
D.A. Steinberg told Sam-Cali that Robinson would plead guilty in return for a reduced sentence and no trial. She initially declined it, but on April 13, Sam-Cali accepted the terms at a two-hour hearing. Semen samples removed from the victim shortly after she was attacked were matched via DNA analysis to Robinson, and she identified him as her attacker. In addition, he had a gun in his possession stolen from the house, and Officer Lewis testified that this was the man with whom he'd had a shoot-out in the Cali home.
Robinson said nothing during the hearing, and his attorney called no one to speak on his behalf, although Robinson's mother and half-sister were present. Nicholls made it clear that the defendant had long been a troubled young man with a difficult life. Still, he offered no motive for Robinson's attacks, but he did set forth the young man's good qualities: a high IQ that allowed him to get his high school equivalency diploma when he was sixteen (and in juvenile detention) and a supposedly good relationship with a loving mother.
Steinberg told reporters afterward, "He is everything that is evil in society, all rolled up in one person." Sam-Cali seemed to agree. She was quoted in the Morning Call as saying, "Put him away for good. He should die for what he did." But Nicholls asked for leniency and suggested that Robinson could be rehabilitated. Steinberg countered this with Robinson's considerable juvenile record and his threats against other prisoners where he was currently detained. In fact, Robinson had been resistant to rules and aggressive toward others since the first grade, and he'd committed his first juvenile offense, a theft, at the age of nine. Each time he got out of juvenile detention, he committed more antisocial acts and refused to take advantage of prosocial opportunities. Given this history and set of behavior patterns, his chances for rehabilitation seemed slim at best.
Despite Nicholls' argument, Robinson was sentenced to 40 to 80 years in state prison for the rape and assault of Sam-Cali, and for burglarizing her home and shooting at a police officer. Nicholls then stepped out, leaving it to a public defender to take on the murder cases. In the meantime, reporters were busy learning more about who this young offender was.
Dieruff High School
Robinson is multiracial, although he normally passed for white, and his half-black, half-Hispanic father, who was dead, had once been convicted of manslaughter. For that, he served a seven-year prison term. The man had frequently gotten drunk and quarreled with Barbara Brown, Robinson's mother, sometimes hitting her. (Robinson denied having been physically abused himself.) His parents divorced when he was three years old and he remained with his mother, although one source indicates that he idealized his father and occasionally saw him. Robinson's older stepbrother had also gone to prison.
Robinson had been an impulsive child with little ability to focus, a great deal of moodiness and a hair-trigger temper. He was nine years old when he was first arrested, and over the next eight years, he piled up a dozen more arrests, mostly for theft and property crimes. He fought with authority figures, had a history of substance abuse, and had been diagnosed with conduct disorders that were precursors to an adult antisocial personality disorder.
The family frequently changed its residence, but Robinson spent many years on and off in different juvenile facilities. Due in part to his undisciplined behavior, he was to repeat the first grade. "I was very hyper," he would later say. "I was always disruptive." He once assaulted a male middle-school teacher who was assigned to watch emotionally disturbed youths in the classroom, and female teachers reportedly felt threatened by Robinson. He was fifteen when he committed his first known burglary, and two years later, he became a rapist and murderer.
Yet he did have his good points. At Dieruff High School, he wrestled, participated in cross-country sports, and played soccer and football, receiving trophies for his skill and ability. He was also a good student, excelling academically and earning awards for his essays. Some teachers believed he showed promise, even though he would need a great deal of support and guidance. But awards and trophies are difficult to reconcile with the rash of multiple rapes and brutally violent murders.
Harvey Miguel Robinson
Robinson was assigned a public defender, Carmen Marinelli, and on July 24, Marinelli requested three separate trials for the three murder cases. (The trial for the rape and attempted murder of the little girl would be a separate proceeding.) Marinelli also wanted a change of venue, due to the amount of publicity the case had generated in the Lehigh Valley, where Allentown was located. Yet Steinberg hoped for a single trial, and he demonstrated the strong similarities in the three cases, with DNA links to Robinson. He called F.B.I. analyst Stephen Etter to explain the indicators known to experts that the murders were the work of a sexually motivated serial killer. The judge considered both arguments and decided to hold one trial there in Allentown. James Burke was appointed to join the defense.
The prosecution lined up fifty witnesses to prove Robinson's participation in all three murders, but the defense had not yet offered its strategy. Based on pretrial notices, Marinelli and Burke might choose one of several arguments: that Robinson had not committed these murders, that the DNA testing was not reliable, or that Robinson was not guilty by reason of insanity. However, a psychiatrist's report from interviews with Robinson indicated that he was competent to stand trial and had no evidence of a mental illness. Still, the defense had not yet offered their own expert's report.
Along with blood and semen evidence against Robinson, there had also been a sneaker impression on the face of one victim that was similar to sneakers that he'd worn. In addition, the strands of pubic and head hair found on Charlotte Schmoyer were linked microscopically to Robinson. At this trial, Denise Sam-Cali was a witness, letting the jury know in a determined voice that Robinson was the man who had raped and assaulted her. He did not speak on his own behalf, despite his own attorneys' request to do so.
The proceeding lasted three weeks, and on November 8, 1994, Harvey Miguel Robinson was convicted of the rapes and murders of Burghardt, Schmoyer, and Fortney. The jury was then sequestered in order to avoid outside pressure as they listened to evidence about how the defendant should be sentenced. His life was on the line.
Dr. Robert Sadoff
During this phase, Robinson once again rejected his attorneys' plea to testify on his own behalf, so the jury heard from other witnesses about his difficult life and multiple juvenile arrests. One side used them to show his incorrigibility, while the other said that Robinson had been at a disadvantage for most of his life and had not yet had the chance to do better.
"If there ever was a case where the death penalty was warranted," Steinberg was quoted as saying, "this is such a case." He offered four aggravating circumstances: multiple victims, murder committed during other felonies, torture of the victims (backed up by the pathologist's report from the condition of the bodies), and a history of violent aggression and threats. This was a man inherently dangerous to society, Steinberg insisted, and he showed nine graphic color photos of the bodies to emphasize his point.
Dr. Robert Sadoff, a forensic psychiatrist, testified for the defense. He indicated that Robinson suffered from a dependency on drugs and alcohol and had an antisocial personality disorder. He also had experienced visual and auditory hallucinations, and all of this combined contributed to his difficulty in adjusting to social norms. It was not unusual to find petty juvenile crimes and aggression among children with these conditions, Sadoff stated, and then suggested that Robinson may have turned to rape and murder to relieve stress. However, the psychiatrist added, if these young offenders receive help in a controlled setting at an early age, they can improve. Under cross-examination, he did concede that he would label a person who has killed three times in the manner of Robinson's offenses a serial killer.
Harvey Robinson, after conversion to Islam
Robinson's half-sister, cousin and a friend testified for him as well. They said that he was a good friend, but his disadvantage lay in having poor male role models, an alcoholic father and an older half-brother who were also criminals. The imprisoned half-brother, George Robbins, said that he and Robinson had both converted to Islam and now believed in humility and peace. He begged for mercy. Marinelli told the jury that pity for victims should not be a factor in deciding whether a person should live or die.
Having the final word, Steinberg reminded them that Robinson had shown no mercy to his victims. "Say to yourselves," he instructed them, "he was lost a long time ago. There is no basis for you to save him in this courtroom."
On November 10, with twenty deputies in the courtroom, the jury sentenced Robinson to die by lethal injection. Relatives of the victims broke down in tears, while Robinson's mother watched him with moist eyes. Robinson himself showed no reaction; he retained the same blank expression he had worn throughout the trial. The newspaper reported that during deliberations, the jurors had stood up, held hands, and prayed together to do the right thing.
Six months later, Robinson was convicted of rape and the attempted murder of the five-year-old girl. Fifty-seven years were added to his sentences, and 40 more for his July 31 shootout with the police.
Denise Sam-Cali's story became the basis for a television movie, and the other families returned to their business. But this case was not yet finished. Not only did it carry automatic appeals, but Robinson figured out some new angles.
Robinson decided that his trial attorneys, Carmen Marinelli and James Burke, had failed to tell him the importance of testifying in his own behalf, hurting his chance for a fair trial, so he insisted that he get an opportunity to redress the harm done to him. He requested a hearing to challenge his convictions and sentences. However, Marinelli stated to reporters that during the trial, Robinson had refused to testify, despite their attempts to get him to do so.
Attorney Philip Lauer
In November 1998, Robinson's new attorney, Philip Lauer, challenged Robinson's convictions at a post-sentencing hearing, on the grounds that there were fundamental flaws in the trial procedures. Among them was the fact that Sam-Cali's testimony had been admitted, when she had not even recalled being sexually assaulted until after a detective had hypnotized her a month later. And there were problems with that procedure: The hypnotist had learned details about the assault prior to putting Sam-Cali into a trance. There was a possibility that he had suggested details to her and she had incorporated them into her memory. There was research to show that such things occurred. In any event, Robinson's defense attorneys were not notified of this procedure and thus did not have the chance to test Sam-Cali's memory independently. Indeed, she apparently had initially identified someone else, and had even believed that a former employee had assaulted her. That person had not been included in a line-up with Robinson.
As Lauer and his secretary walked out after the hearing, friends and relatives of Denise Sam-Cali subjected them to name-calling. Apparently they were afraid that Lauer might raise issues that could free Robinson. Some members of her family were even asked to leave the courtroom. Sam-Cali herself shouted insults at Robinson and his mother, as reported Ron Devlin in the Morning Call. Nevertheless, this behavior did not erase the problems with legal protocol, and the judge knew he would have to weigh them carefully.
Other issues that Robinson raised involved a racially biased jury selection (because they were selected based on having a driver's license), an error in allowing the three murders to be jointly tried, and an error in not changing the venue. Then on November 24, to the surprise of many, Robinson got his day in court.
Robinson Speaks Out
Now 23, Robinson testified in front of about thirty people, denying that he had committed the slayings and indicating that he regretted not proclaiming his innocence to the jury members who had convicted him. While he spoke, the shackles on his ankles and wrists were clearly evident. Judge Edward Reibman warned the spectators to behave, referring to the taunts two weeks earlier from Sam-Cali's supporters. "The court will not tolerate any disruptions in the courtroom," Reibman said, "nor will it tolerate any taunts addressed to any officers of the court. Please stay within the boundaries of civilized society and civilized behavior and allow this system to run its course."
Judge Edward Reibman
Robinson testified for three hours, with five deputies in close proximity, casting blame on his former lawyers. At the time of his trial, he said, he'd given Marinelli and Burke the names of several people who could testify to his whereabouts when the three women were killed, as well as friends, coaches, teachers, and relatives who could attest to his character and accomplishments. Yet they called no alibi witnesses and presented few character witnesses. In addition, he continued, they did not inform him of the best strategy for defending himself and they did not use much information about his childhood that might have helped him. He hoped to gain one of three options: to have his sentences vacated, to have the charges dismissed altogether, or to get a new trial.
Lauer asked Robinson directly whether he had committed the murders and he stated that he did not, which brought an audible response from the relatives of victims who were listening to him. They were clearly irritated. Robinson's mother was there as well, seated in the back, and Robinson smiled at her during the hearing. Otherwise, he showed no emotion and spoke so softly he was asked several times to repeat his statements.
Robinson told Judge Reibman that he had declined to testify during his trial because he worried that prosecutors could have questioned him about his guilty plea to raping Sam-Cali. "I was under the impression," he stated, "that if I did testify, then my past record was admissible." He said he had not been informed otherwise.
Prosecutor Jacqueline Paradis probed this line of reasoning. She raised the issue that his life had been on the line and wondered how he did not understand the significance. He merely said he hadn't thought it was important.
Burke, one of Robinson's former defense attorneys, also testified, disputing his claim about the defense strategy. He insisted that he had Marinelli had repeatedly encouraged Robinson to testify, both at his trial and at his sentencing. "I begged him," Burke stated. While he could not dispute the fact that only a few witnesses from Robinson's list had testified, he claimed that his and Marinelli's choices at the time had been made in their client's best interest: Many potential witnesses were contacted, he stated, but some seemed damaging to Robinson while others refused to testify or could not be located because Robinson had given insufficient information. Robinson mistrusted lawyers, even those working on his behalf, so he had been less than cooperative.
Robinson agreed, but said in his defense that he'd developed that mistrust during the Sam-Cali rape case in which, he contended, his lawyer coerced him to plead guilty. He now regretted that decision.
The court deliberated over these revelations and decided that Robinson's attorneys had acted in his best interests and had not been ineffective in their counsel, so Robinson did not receive a new trial, although other developments later affected his case.
Two Down, One to Go
Lehigh County District
Attorney James Martin
In June 2001, Judge Edward Reibman vacated Robinson's death sentences in the murders of Burghardt and Schmoyer. In that trial, Reibman said, the instructions to the jury had not properly defined the aggravated circumstances of multiple murder. He allowed the defendant to have a new sentencing hearing. The prosecutor would have to decide to go forward.
Four years later in December 2005, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence in the Fortney case and the first-degree murder convictions in the other two cases. The high court stated that although Robinson believed that his attorney had not presented mitigating circumstances on his behalf, the trial jury had indeed considered reasons against imposing the death penalty and had given him death anyway. The court similarly rejected Robinson's claims that the prosecutor had improperly labeled him a predator (as well as his claim with other inmates that the jury pool selection system was racially biased). Steinberg's remarks during Robinson's murder trial were found to be consistent with claims that Robinson had targeted a certain type of victims within a specific geographical area. So Robinson remained in the same boat. That is, until another legal development occurred.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell
The following year, on March 1, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles age 17 and under were ineligible for the death penalty. This ruling affected Robinson's conviction in the Burghardt murder, committed when he was seventeen. However, that death sentence was already vacated. The Supreme Court's decision simply meant that Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin would not reopen that case, but he was nevertheless determined to seek a new hearing in the Schmoyer case.
Robinson's death penalty appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in October 2005. In February 2006, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell signed his death warrant, with an execution date set for April 4, 2006. A federal appeal will likely stay it, say attorneys on both sides.
From prison in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, Robinson has posted on prisoner Web sites, looking for correspondents. He indicates that he enjoys exercise, writing, music, and reading self-help books. He particularly likes to help others. "Life is so truly precious," he writes, "so anything I can do for another is something I'm interested in and like." In 2005, he indicated that many family members and friends had abandoned him.
While no one can say what actually caused Robinson to rape and murder, or why he kept on doing it, he did grow up with disadvantages that could have influenced his resistant and suspicious perception of other people. It's little surprise that he turned to antisocial acts. He simply grew angrier, and with each failure, he probably filled his fantasies with scenarios of things he could do to empower himself. Each time he broke a law and was caught, and each time he harmed or killed someone, he updated his perceptions of the world, viewing power as equivalent to taking something from others via burglary, rape and murder.
If current theories about the stability of antisocial personality factors hold true, then outside prison, Robinson would likely have continued to act out with violence, especially toward authority figures, as represented by women who apparently resembled his mother and by officers of the legal system. Even as a juvenile, he tended to graduate to more secure facilities with each new incarceration, rather than less secure ones. He may have been born physiologically with a reactive temperament or absorbed it from his father, who also used violence against others, as some experts have suggested. Perhaps he then processed the world through how others reacted to him, which to him would have seemed negative and unpleasant.
In any event, despite reports that in recent years he has been a quiet prisoner, it's difficult to know what he might have done had he returned to an environment full of triggers for his form of antisocial behavior. In general, it's been found that past behavior is a strong predictor of future behavior. Robinson has declined psychopathy and, despite the physical evidence and the multiple identifications of him by victims, has long insisted that he did not commit the crimes. This lack of acknowledgment or insight is not generally productive for reformed behavior. Even those who supported him after his initial arrest admitted he could be manipulative. He might put on a show of obeying rules, one probation officer said at his trial, just to keep authorities off his back, and when he was offered opportunities in the past to better himself, he ignored them. Whether he will one day be executed or instead spend his life in prison, there's little chance, despite his attempts, that this convicted serial killer will ever be free.
Bucsko, Mike. "Juvenile Executions Ruling Affects Three," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 2, 2005.
Rose, Fred. Cosmopolitan. March 1, 1996.
Petherick, Wayne. Serial Crime: Theoretical and Practical Issues in Behavioral Profiling. Academic press, 2006.
The following articles from The Morning Call, by Debbie Garlicki, Susan Todd, Elliott Grossman, Ron Devlin, Mike Frassinelli and Kristen Casler, from 1993-2001.
"Allentown Teenager held in June Attack on Woman."
"Jurors' Quest: What Makes Harvey Robinson Tick?"
"Allentown Man Charged in Serial Murder, Rapes."
"Victims' Families Disrupt Hearing."
"Jurors Choose Death for Robinson."
"Expert Link Robinson to Crime Scene Evidence."
"Robinson Recalls Childhood, Insists He's no Murderer."
"Allentown Crimes Fit Mold of Serial Killer."
"For Robinson Jury, a Matter of Life and Death."
"Robinson Gets 40 Years for rape, Assault."
"Victim, Kin of Dead Keep Killer in Past."
"Robinson's Lawyers Seek Three Murder Trials."
"Jury Chooses Death for Robinson."
"Analyst says Same Killer Took Three Lives."
"Robinson Trial Clues Go Under Microscope."