Prior charge against alleged FB Live killer dismissed
SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Before he became known as the alleged Facebook Live killer, Johnathan Tremaine Robinson already was well known to Shreveport police and the Caddo Parish criminal justice system.
Over the past two decades, the 37-year-old Shreveport man racked up a dozen arrests and served 10 years behind bars on convictions for aggravated battery and robbery.
But the horror behind the death of Rannita Williams on April 12 brought new focus to the criminal past of Robinson after he allegedly fatally shot Williams in her own home, streaming the deadly crime live on Facebook.
Through a public records request, KSLA Investigates obtained criminal files against Robinson from the Caddo Parish district attorney’s office.
During a thorough examination of the records behind five of Robinson’s most recent arrests, one case stood out - a 2014 charge for possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute.
While the allegations against Robinson did not seem extraordinary, what raised eyebrows was the fact that the case froze after the arraignment phase of prosecution for 2.5 years then the charge suddenly was dropped without explanation.
As it turns out, Robinson’s court-appointed attorney ended up being a commercial litigator and not a criminal defense lawyer.
And the attorney initiated a legal fight early in the case for $3,000. According to court records, he claimed the money was necessary to initiate an investigation.
Without the money, Robinson’s lawyer argued, he could not adequately defend Robinson.
When both the local and state public defender’s offices said the was no money to pay for an investigation, Robinson’s lawyer filed a stay in the case then spent the next year appealing the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On July 31, 2014, in Shreveport’s Allendale neighborhood, narcotics officers set their sights on a specific house after getting tips from neighbors who said Robinson and his brother allegedly were selling drugs there.
According to an investigative report, the Robinson brothers and another man were sitting on the porch when officers arrived. After they searched the area, officers say they found drugs, cash and a gun. All three men were arrested for possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute.
For his part in the alleged crime, Robinson faced a minimum of five years at hard labor if convicted as charged.
However, he never faced that drug charge in court. Prosecutors finally and suddenly dismissed the charge without explanation in 2017.
“It’s a case that could have and should have ended, again this is just my judgment, in no more than six months,” said J. Florence, a criminal lawyer hired to represent one of the other two who were arrested alongside Robinson.
KSLA Investigates discovered the court appointed a corporate lawyer to defend Robinson.
That’s something Florence said happened a lot back in 2014.
According to Florence, the Caddo public defender’s office was going broke. And that prompted courts to assign lawyers with no criminal experience to represent defendants for free, he added.
"To say that a person is not qualified, that’s no disrespect to them. It’s just a reality; it’s not what they do.”
Florence also attests that some attorneys found ways to get out of unwanted assignments.
“A lot of the civil lawyers filed all kinds of motions, attempting to go all the way to the Supreme Court to again delay and make the point ‘Hey, we’re not qualified; you need to take us off these cases'.”
In the Robinson drug case, KSLA Chief Investigative Reporter Stacey Cameron found one motion that brought everything to a standstill for almost two years.
Documents show the court appointed a corporate lawyer who wanted $3,000 to initiate an investigation. But when both the local and state public defender’s offices said they didn’t have the funds, records show Robinson’s lawyer filed a motion to stay the case.
“Which basically means everything is frozen," Florence said.
“My client and I objected. Our argument was we are ready to proceed, we’re ready to go forward, we’re ready to try this case, to prove my client is innocent. But we had to wait.”
According to documents, Robinson’s attorney started with the trial court, then the court of appeal in Shreveport. Ultimately, the battle for $3,000 ended at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Robinson’s attorney lost each time.
KSLA Investigates reached out to Robinson’s lawyer at the time, but messages have gone unanswered.
KSLA Investigates contacted Ken Levy, a professor of criminal law at LSU, to review the case.
“He had a long rap sheet, and my understanding is not much of a defense to the latest crimes that he was being charged with, " Levy said.
The motion arguing for $3,000 clearly put the brakes on the case, he said.
"If the defense had been given enough money to fund the case, he probably would have been prosecuted, convicted and in jail.”
While Robinson’s lawyer never got the money for an investigation, it didn’t matter in the end. In March 2017, the district attorney’s office dismissed the drug case.
That move completely surprised Florence because he didn’t expect prosecutors to drop the case once Robinson’s lawyer lost his motion.
“I was expecting for me and my client to go to trial and for us to win at trial.”
With the case almost three years old in 2017, Florence thinks the district attorney’s office finally decided to cut its losses and walk away from it when one of the defendants was convicted on separate drug charges in Texas.
Florence said that meant Robinson and his client were off the hook. "No prosecutor came and told me that. But, absolutely, I would be foolish to not believe that’s what happened.”
In a review of the case file, KSLA Investigates discovered a note reading:
“Do order of dismissal on all. Defendant doing 25 years in Texas.”
It’s a case James Stewart said began more than a year and half before he started as Caddo’s district attorney.
In an exclusive interview, Stewart explained why the drug charges against Robinson went away.
“It was a constructive possession case. The law says mere presence around drugs or someone else is not necessarily constructive possession.”
According to the arresting officer’s report, police found no drugs on Robinson. And the crack cocaine recovered at the scene was under a dog house next door to the house where Robinson was sitting on the porch.
“It wasn’t a prosecutable case; and one of the defendants was prosecuted somewhere else," Stewart said.
"So it’s one of those cases where the only way you’re going to get a conviction is if the defendant pleads. Okay? And the defendants did not plead, and it was time to make a decision on the case and it wasn’t prosecutable.”
Thirteen months after this dismissal of prosecution was filed, Rannita Williams was fatally shot in her home.
Now Robinson now faces a first-degree murder charge and the possibility of the death penalty if convicted as charged.
Levy, the LSU professor of criminal law, said Williams’ death is a tragedy that criminal justice should have prevented.
"He (Robinson) should have been punished much more severely for many of his crimes. He should have been in jail instead of out in the street.”
The murder case against Robinson goes back to court Monday, Sept. 17.
But money is once again delaying his prosecution. Due to funding cuts, there’s a lack of public defenders qualified to try death penalty cases in Northwest Louisiana.
Right now, Robinson doesn’t have an attorney who can defend this case at trial.
KSLA News 12 will be at the next hearing and will keep a close eye on this case as it advances.
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