The trial of a man accused of burglarizing a Berea animal clinic and finance office began Monday with his defense attorney asserting that 41-year-old William T. Robinson was miles away from the city when the crimes occurred.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Smith, however, called it a “fairly simple case” during his opening statement. Smith told the jury that Robinson admitted during a police interview he was the man shown on the clinic’s surveillance video from the night of the break-ins.
Robinson is charged with two counts of third-degree burglary. The incidents occurred around midnight Jan. 22, 2012.
Advanced Animal Care and OneMain Financial, which are adjacent businesses in a Pauline Drive shopping center, were both ransacked and had cash stolen. The vet clinic also had checks and two computers taken. Damage was done to both offices.
The cash taken from both businesses totaled about $600, according to testimony Monday from Advanced Animal Care office manager John Martin and OneMain Financial manager LaDonna O’Bryan.
In a twist to the case, Robinson had accepted a deal in the case and pleaded guilty to both burglary counts earlier this year in Madison Circuit Court, admitting the state had enough evidence to convict him. Smith recommended a sentence of one year in prison on each charge to be served concurrently for a total of one year.
However, at his later sentencing hearing, Robinson asked to take back the guilty plea and go to trial. The move is highly unusual, but Judge Jean C. Logue granted his request and set a trial date.
If Robinson is convicted on one or both burglary counts by the jury, he faces a sentencing range of one to 10 years in prison.
Officers testify about investigation, arrest
One of the key pieces of evidence in the case against Robinson is a 19-second video clip of a man entering Advanced Animal Care through the back door and walking through the office the night of the thefts. Martin gave copies of the footage along with still photos from the video to Berea police.
BPD Capt. Ken Clark testified that some of the photos from the video were posted on the department’s Facebook page to generate leads from the public.
Clark was not allowed to tell the jury about a tip the department received that named Robinson as a possible suspect. Logue ruled at an earlier evidence-suppression hearing that testimony about the tip could not be presented at trial.
Clark told the jury that about a week after posting the photos on Facebook, he and Lt. Danny Brewer drove to Richmond to track down Robinson, who both officers described as a “person of interest” in the burglaries.
The BPD officers found a friend of Robinson’s, and they informed the friend they wanted to talk to Robinson. Before the officers returned to Berea, they received a call from Robinson, and he was waiting for them at the police station when they arrived, according to the officers’ testimony.
Clark testified that he told Robinson that his name “had come up” in connection with burglaries in Berea. The officers first showed Robinson a printed copy of a still photo from the surveillance video, and Robinson said he wasn’t sure who it was. Clark told Robinson it might be clearer if he pulled the photo up on a computer screen.
When Robinson saw the same picture on the computer, he said “That’s me, it looks like I’m at Chester’s,” Clark told the jury (Chester’s is a Berea truck stop.).
Based on that alleged admission, Robinson was arrested and charged with the burglaries.
However, under cross-examination by defense attorney Alex Rowady, Clark admitted that none of the missing items – the computers, cash or checks – were ever recovered either on Robinson’s person, in his vehicle or house, or at a pawn shop.
Clark said a search warrant was never obtained for Robinson’s vehicle or house.
“I doubt very seriously I could’ve gotten (a search warrant),” Clark said.
Clark went on to explain that Robinson’s house was in foreclosure, and he was in the middle of a divorce, so they were unsure what location to obtain a search warrant for.
Rowady also confirmed with Clark, and later when Brewer testified, that no physical evidence such as DNA or fingerprints were collected at the burglarized businesses.
Finally, Rowady pointed out that Robinson’s alleged statement identifying himself in the surveillance photo was not recorded. Brewer confirmed this, stating he and Clark had brought Robinson in for a “person-of-interest” interview, not a suspect interrogation, so they did not tape his initial statement.
The trial continues Tuesday starting at 9 a.m. in Madison Circuit Court. Witness testimony is expected to conclude tomorrow.
(Note: The defendant is unrelated to Bill Robinson, Richmond Register editor.)
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6694.