Fri, May 24

Murder case: No relief for Robbins

Robin Robbins

Robin Robbins

Judge Warren Darrow has released his ruling on the Robin Robbins appeal of his 71-year prison sentence. It continues to spell a life behind bars for the 51-year-old Lake Montezuma man.

In late December 2004, Robbins crashed his truck into a van driven by William Hutchinson, the pastor of Verde Valley Baptist Church. The minister and two of his sons, James Hutchinson, 15, and Matthew Hutchinson, 27, were killed in the collision. His wife Vicki Hutchinson and another son, Jeremy Hutchinson, 13, were injured.

Another car struck by the Robbins vehicle was driven by Andrew Roeller, 19, of Cottonwood, who was killed instantly. Frank Walls, who was driving a freightliner following Robbins' car, suffered injuries as a result of the crash.

In something of a mini-trial, the judge heard defenses that had not proposed to be argued had the case gone to trial.

In September 2006, Robbins pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree murder, one for each of the passengers in the two cars his truck struck and killed.

In addition he pleaded to three counts of aggravated assault, endangerment, criminal damage and four counts of DUI.

The Arizona Court of Appeals returned the case to Darrow to explore "colorable claims" or claims with the potential to be true.

After several days of hearings in April, Darrow had 10 days to rule, but the judge's sudden heart bypass surgery postponed a decision for several months.

In his post-conviction appeal, Robbins had challenged that his attorney did not argue certain points important to his defense.

Robbins claimed that Bruce Griffin had failed to provide an expert witness to show that his truck had serious steering problems that contributed to the crash.

He claimed that sleep apnea had contributed to his falling asleep at the wheel and said his attorney failed to explore that condition.

He suggested medication given him by a friend where he spent the night before the fatal crash contributed to involuntary intoxication.

The defense counsel, he said, told Robbins there were no available defenses due to the presence of methamphetamine in his system at the time of the crash.

Finally, Robbins told the judge that he was led to believe the sentence would not exceed 22 years.

Darrow, in his recent ruling, said there was "substantial strong evidence that Mr. Robbins was impaired by methamphetamine or a combination of drugs. If the defendant was not impaired by the drugs and still willfully continued driving on the highway despite a repeated malfunction of the steering and despite the highly questionable circumstance of recent repairs, such conduct would be a manifestation of extreme recklessness."

Darrow says, "the movements of the vehicle (before the crash) are not consistent with control by a dozing driver who would likely be alarmed into a state of alertness by a near head-on collision."

"The sleep-disorder defenses did not arise until after the plea agreement.

"The Court finds that Mr. Griffin made a reasonable, good faith attempts to retain a properly qualified expert witness and was unable to do so."

Griffin also had discussed the risk of consecutive sentencing and potential of very lengthy sentences, the judge believed.

The ruling means that Robbins is returned to the state prison to serve the balance of the sentence.