Jury finds teen guilty of lesser charge in mother's death

TAMPA, Fla. - A 17-year-old girl whose mother was choked, injected with bleach and stabbed to death was convicted Friday of a lesser charge of third-degree murder.

The jury rejected a first-degree murder charge, for which Valessa Robinson could have been sentenced to life in prison.

The maximum sentence for third-degree murder is 15 years, but the state's sentencing guidelines, which take into account a variety of factors, could set a much different term. Valessa has no prior criminal record.

The panel, which deliberated 17 hours after a 10-day trial, also found her guilty of petty theft and grand theft auto stemming from the death of her mother, Vicki.

''It was a very, very complex decision,'' juror Ray Straub said. ''We did not rush to judgment.''

Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett set sentencing for May 30.

Vicki Robinson was trying to separate her then 15-year-old daughter from Adam Davis, a 19-year-old drifter, when she was slain in June 1998. She was choked, injected with bleach and stabbed to death on her kitchen floor.

The single mother of two teen-age girls planned to send Valessa to a school for troubled teens.

The prosecution said Valessa initiated the killing, then held her struggling mother down. In her closing arguments, assistant state attorney Shirley Williams focused on statements by Valessa that she wanted to kill her mother and afterward, that she had killed her mother.

But assistant public defender Dee Ann Athan depicted Valessa as a child and a victim and blamed her friends for the killing.

During the trial Valessa wore school-girl clothing that softened the hardened look in a poster size blow up of her booking mug presented to the jury.

At times, especially during descriptions of the murder scene, she bowed her head at the defense table and cried. Once, she was excused from the courtroom at her request before pictures were introduced of her mother's lifeless body stuffed headfirst into a trash can for disposal.

The defense hammered at the theme that Valessa was a love-sick and impressionable child and an unwitting tool of Davis who manipulated her with sex and drugs.

Valessa, Davis and their friend Jon Whispel were on LSD the night of the slaying.

Athan told the jury in her closing arguments that Davis and Whispel killed the mother, then dragged Valessa along as they fled cross-country in the woman's van with her credit and bank cards.

Whispel, the state's key witness, was portrayed as a liar. ''If Jon Whispel were Pinocchio, his nose would be so big we would not fit in this room,'' Athan said.

She said Davis killed the mother, then Whispel and Davis cleaned up the blood-splattered kitchen and dumped her body into the trash can for burial. When the ground in a wooded area was too hard, they hid the trash can in some shrubs, planning to come back later. They never did.

When they learned authorities were looking for Vicki Robinson, Valessa, Davis and Whispel fled to Texas. They were captured in Pecos County following a high-speed chase.

Whispel pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is serving 25 years in prison under a plea bargain for his testimony.

Davis was convicted of first-degree murder and is on death row.


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