By Pablo Lopez, The Fresno Bee, Calif.
Apr. 6–A Fresno County Superior Court jury on Wednesday convicted a Fresno woman of second-degree murder for the death of her 10-year-old niece, Tiana Martin, whose body was never found.
Tamara Lynette Robinson, 47, sat stoically, neither crying nor turning to see relatives and friends who packed Judge Wayne Ellison’s courtroom. Some of them cried.
The jury of seven men and five women also convicted Robinson of two felony charges of inflicting corporal injury to a child, Tiana’s older sister. Jurors rejected a misdemeanor child-endangerment charge related to Tiana’s oldest sister. It is The Bee’s policy to keep the girls’ names confidential because they are minors.
Robinson faces a sentence of 22 years to life in prison. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for June.
After the verdict, Tiana’s mother, Tina Jackson, said she and her family received justice but not closure: “I don’t have my baby, her body. I can’t put her to rest.”
Jackson also said her sister, Robinson, should receive the full prison term because “my daughter got the maximum penalty. She’s not here.”
But Kimberly Jackson, a cousin to Jackson and Robinson, said she hoped the judge would show mercy toward Robinson.
“There’s no winners,” Kimberly Jackson said.
“Tammy [Robinson] has a good heart She probably snapped caring for all those children with no help.”
Tina Jackson agreed she should share some of the blame.
“I should have been more into my kids,” Jackson said. “But never in a million years did I think this would happen.”
Robinson was described at times as a caring woman, the protector of children and a good Samaritan who took in Tiana and her two sisters when Jackson was unable to care for them.
She also was painted as a cruel disciplinarian and architect of a scheme to cover up Tiana’s killing, which police believe happened in the summer of 2003.
Both sides agreed that Robinson was overwhelmed with her life, caring for her ill 2-year-old child as well as three rambunctious nieces.
Prosecutor Dennis Peterson, however, said Robinson didn’t have to kill Tiana; she could have put the girl in a foster home.
Peterson told jurors that Tiana, a fourth-grader at Lawless Elementary School, was a good kid who had a thyroid condition that left her skinny and weak. She wanted to live with her mother but couldn’t because Jackson had no home or money.
Tiana and her sisters, then 12 and 14 years old, lived with Robinson in a northwest Fresno apartment for more than a year before Tiana was killed.
During the trial, the two sisters testified they saw Robinson beat Tiana with a shower curtain rod for failing to exercise properly. Tiana was then ordered into a hot garage without water, the girls said.
After leaving the garage, the older sister testified, Tiana was beaten with a bat and then died. Robinson tried to revive Tiana, but when that failed, the girl’s body was kept in the apartment for nearly a week. Then one morning, Robinson ordered her nieces to help dispose of Tiana’s body in a garbage bin at the apartment complex, the girls testified.
When the two girls started a new school year without Tiana, relatives became concerned and implored Robinson to call police. Robinson reported Tiana missing on Sept. 9, 2003. Later that day, Robinson admitted to police that Tiana had died and couldn’t be revived.
Robinson declined to tell police about Tiana’s body, but her sisters’ statements led police to do an extensive search of the county landfill; that effort failed.
Jurors deliberated three days, trying to figure out whether Tiana’s death was murder or the lesser charge of manslaughter. The key issue was whether Robinson had a conscious disregard for human life, knowing her actions would lead to Tiana’s death, Peterson said.
The panel decided on murder after being convinced that Tiana was beaten twice — once before she was ordered into the hot garage and again after she left.
Peterson said the verdict vindicates Tiana’s sisters, whom the defense portrayed as liars.
Robinson’s lawyer, Kariann Junio, had given the jurors options: acquit Robinson because there was no body, therefore no evidence that Tiana was killed; blame Tiana’s oldest sister for the girl’s death; or find Robinson guilty of manslaughter.
Said Kimberly Jackson: “This is a bizarre case. It just shows good people can do awful things.”
The reporter can be reached at [email protected] or (559) 441-6434.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Fresno Bee, Calif.
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