Suppression issue in Columbia County death penalty case

Attorneys for a Florida man accused of gunning down a Columbia County resident in a church parking lot contend the circumstances of Daniel Robinson’s arrest and questioning requires the suppression of physical evidence and his statement. It’s a contention the prosecution says lack merit.

 

It will be up to Judge John Flythe to decide which side is correct. A hearing has not been set.

Robinson is accused of killing William “Bill” Davitte, 55, the night of Aug. 14, 2014, in the parking lot of Marvin United Methodist Church. If a Columbia County Superior Court jury finds him guilty of murder, the prosecutor intends to seek a sentence of death.

District Attorney Natalie Paine responded Friday to the defense team’s suppression motions, writing that Robinson’s arrest was lawful and that his statement was given voluntarily. The Florida Highway Patrol and Jacksonville Police Department were looking for Davitte’s 2010 Nissan Murano because the driver was suspected of being involved in Davitte’s killing, which took place around 10:30 p.m. An officer spotted the vehicle and gave chase but lost sight of it.

The car was later found abandoned and officers set up a search perimeter. Around 4 a.m. on Aug. 15, 2014, a Jacksonville police officer spotted a black man in a white T-shirt, which was the description given by the trooper who tried to stop the vehicle earlier, inside the perimeter.

Defense attorneys Adam Levin and Erin Wallace contend the vague description may have given the officer the right to briefly stop and question Robinson, but it did not rise to the level that the officer took – pulling his gun, ordering Robinson to the ground, threatening to shoot him, searching him, handcuffing him, and putting him in his patrol car.

The prosecutor countered that the officer also saw what he believed to be blood on Robinson’s clothing and book bag, increasing the need to verify Robinson’s identity. The officer put him in a patrol car and drove him to a nearby residence to check Robinson’s contention that he had just left that house. The officer determined that was a lie, according to Paine’s brief.

About 12 hours after his arrest, two Columbia County sheriff’s investigators arrived in Jacksonville to question Robinson. They read Robinson his rights, which included the right to remain silent and to end the interview at any time. Robinson then launched a profanity-laced tirade at them. The investigators left the room and a Jacksonville detective went in and started asking Robinson questions, both sides agree.

The defense’s brief contends Robinson clearly indicated to the officers that he was invoking his right to remain silent, which means officers must stop the questioning. The Columbia County officers understood what Robinson meant because they left the room, and the Jacksonville detective failed to honor Robinson’s right to terminate the interrogation.

The prosecution contends Robinson’s statements were not a clear invocation of the right to remain silent and end the interview, and that after Robinson began talking he asked for the Columbia County investigators to return to the room.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

 

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