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State v. Robinson

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

February 2, 2016


         Argued May 14, 2015.

         On the briefs:

          Adam P. Sherman, Esq., Paradie, Sherman, Walker & Worden, P.A., Lewiston, for appellant Buddy Robinson.

         Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine.

         At oral argument:

         Adam P. Sherman, Esq., for appellant Buddy Robinson.

         Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee State of Maine.


         HJELM, J.

          [¶1] Buddy Robinson appeals from a judgment of conviction of the murder of Christiana Fesmire, 17-A M.R.S. § 201(1)(A) (2015), entered by the trial court (Androscoggin County, MG Kennedy, J. ) after a jury trial. Robinson argues that the court erred when it found that he was not unfairly prejudiced by prosecutorial misconduct and that he was denied a fair trial by the court's responses to the jury's request for a read-back during its deliberations. Although we conclude that the State engaged in misconduct during the trial, we affirm the conviction.

         I. BACKGROUND

          [¶2] Viewed in the light most favorable to the State, the evidence establishes the following facts. See State v. Dolloff, 2012 ME 130, ¶ 3, 58 A.3d 1032. In 2009, Robinson and his sister were employed at a business in Lewiston. There, the sister met Christiana Fesmire.

          [¶3] Robinson's sister and her child resided in the second floor apartment of a house that she owned in Lewiston. In November 2010, Fesmire was looking for a place to live, and the sister offered Fesmire the vacant first floor apartment in her building. Around that time, Robinson moved into the upstairs unit with his sister and her son. Robinson's sister ran a prostitution ring and Fesmire began working for her, but in the spring of 2011, she worked less for the sister and spent more time away from the apartment. On June 28, Robinson's sister told him that Fesmire had told a prostitution client that the sister was operating a prostitution business. Robinson became upset and said that he was " going to kill" Fesmire.

          [¶4] On June 30, 2011, the sister agreed to lend her Lexus to Fesmire the next day so that Fesmire could drive to a family reunion. In a text message sent to the sister on the morning of July 1, 2011, Fesmire wrote that she would pick up the car later that morning. Between 7:00 and 7:30 that morning, the sister left her apartment with a woman who worked for her as a prostitute. As they were leaving, they saw Fesmire arriving, and the sister had a brief conversation with Fesmire about the location of the car keys.

          [¶5] Robinson's sister and the woman who worked for her went to the premises of the business where the sister worked. While the sister was there, Robinson used Fesmire's cellular telephone to call his sister and tell her that he had had a fight with Fesmire. Later that morning, the sister and the woman who worked for her returned to the sister's apartment, and both of them noticed that the sister's Lexus was still there. Robinson was present and told his sister that he and Fesmire " got into a fight," and that " he took care of the situation." He further stated that Fesmire's body was in the trunk of the Lexus. The woman who worked for Robinson's sister saw that Robinson's pants were wet and heard Robinson say that Fesmire " had thrown up blood everywhere because she was on drugs." After Robinson left to go to work, his sister found splattered blood and a mop in a bucket of bloody water in the kitchen of the first floor apartment. The sister later told the woman who worked for her that Robinson had killed Fesmire and that Robinson " had cleaned it up and put [Fesmire] in the trunk."

          [¶6] At approximately 8:00 p.m. that day, Robinson's sister picked him up at their workplace as he finished his shift, and they returned to the sister's apartment. From there, Robinson left again in the Lexus. He returned later that night, and then left his sister's residence with his sister and a friend of his sister to drive to Augusta as part of a planned trip to Presque Isle. The sister drove her Cadillac, and Robinson again drove the Lexus.

          [¶7] That night, Robinson sent a series of text messages to a person he had worked with in the Maine Army National Guard. In those text messages, he wrote that " he was a really horrible person," that " he had hurt somebody badly," and " I don't have to worry about her--I will never see her again, I don't have to worry about her anymore" because " she's dead." He described himself as an " evil person" and wrote that he did not deserve to live.

          [¶8] After spending the night in an Augusta motel, Robinson and his sister went to a store where, at Robinson's request, the sister bought paper towels, bleach, and air fresheners. While in the parking lot, the sister smelled a bad odor coming from the trunk of the Lexus after Robinson opened it. They traveled to Presque Isle in the sister's Cadillac, leaving the Lexus at the store and picking it up on their return the next day.

          [¶9] When they returned to Lewiston, Robinson, his sister, and two other people went on a planned camping trip. Robinson again drove the Lexus and the others rode in the Cadillac. While camping that evening, Robinson told his sister that " he had to sit on [Fesmire] in the bathtub" and that he had disposed of her body in a " swampy area." During the weekend when they were camping, Robinson's sister sold the Lexus to a friend who was looking to buy a car. Soon after returning from the camping trip, Robinson, the sister, and her son moved out of the apartment where they had been living and relocated elsewhere in Lewiston.

          [¶10] Law enforcement officials eventually began investigating Fesmire's disappearance. In September 2011, investigators found blood both in the first floor apartment where Fesmire had lived and in the trunk of the Lexus, and determined that the blood was Fesmire's. The location of the blood in the apartment was consistent with an effort to clean it up. One week after investigators searched the apartment, they spoke with Robinson and told him they needed to find Fesmire's body. Robinson replied that " he couldn't think straight, and he couldn't remember where he had placed her."

         II. PROCEDURE

          [¶11] In November 2011, Robinson was indicted for Fesmire's murder. He pleaded not guilty. A ten-day jury trial was held in November 2012. In his opening remarks, the prosecutor told the jury, " I work for the Attorney General's Office, and my office is in Augusta. Under our law here in the State of Maine, the Attorney General's office is responsible for the prosecution of all the murder cases and that's why I'm here." The prosecutor also made reference to the jurors' role: " Bear in mind, Detective Leighton and I, we've been here before. We've done this before. And having been here before and done this before, we know how frustrating it can be to be in your position." Robinson did not object to these statements. Then, in his closing argument, the prosecutor stated,

I've been a criminal prosecutor here in the State of Maine pretty much for all of the last 25 years, the last 13 doing exclusively homicide trials for the Attorney General's Office; and, strangely enough, when it comes to trial, I've always been wrong. I'm always wrong. We never get the right person. And, as [defense counsel] told you in his opening statement, once again, we've made a mistake. We've gotten the wrong person.

          [¶12] After Robinson argued to the jury that someone else committed the crime, the prosecutor began his rebuttal by saying, " Well, as I told you at the beginning of the first part of my closing argument, I'm wrong again. We're always wrong. We never get it right." Robinson did not object to any of these comments in the State's principal argument or its rebuttal. After closing arguments, the court instructed the jury that " neither the opening statements nor the closing arguments of the attorneys are evidence" and that

[a]lthough the statements and the arguments of counsel are helpful to understand their respective perspectives on this case, it is important to remember that ultimately it is your recollection of the evidence and it is your perspective that you developed during ...

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