Avant man given life in sex case

Tony Arthur Robinette did not look surprised as deputy sheriffs handcuffed and led him from the courtroom after his conviction last Thursday on two counts of child sexual abuse.

The jury recommended that the maximum allowable penalty be imposed for the charges – life imprisonment.

The Avant man was convicted for two instances in 2013 in which he sexually abused a 6-year-old girl. But over the course of a dramatic three-day trial, the prosecution brought forward witness testimony suggesting that other such acts, possibly many more, had taken place, and that Robinette’s history of sexual abuse is not limited to the incidents of 2013.

The testimony included that of the young girl whom the jurors determined Robinette had abused two years ago.

The prosecution built its case around the testimony of seven witnesses, four of whom are related to the defendant.

Robinette’s then-wife Tammie Robinette said she learned about the abuse directly from the girl, after a month of growing suspicion. On the evening of Feb. 15, 2013, Tammie Robinette saw the girl and Tony Robinette lying down, covered by a blanket, and watching television. According to her, the blankets at Tony Robinette’s crotch level were moving.

On the last night of February she witnessed Tony Robinette place the girl in his lap and bump her into the air with his crotch. She said she could see that he had an erection because he was wearing sweatpants.

“Next morning, I asked [the girl] if anyone had ever touched her where they weren’t supposed to,” she said. The girl said yes and Tammie asked who it was, and she identified Tony Robinette.

“I left the home on March 1 and never returned,” Tammie Robinette said.

On March 2, the girl’s family made a report to the Osage County Sheriff’s Office, and they soon made arrangements to have her interviewed by a forensic interviewer.

(Forensic interviewing is a non-leading way to question a child. It is used in child abuse cases to avoid presenting information to the child during the interview that the child might not otherwise have known.)

During her forensic interview, the girl described two instances in which Robinette had touched her inappropriately, once with his hand on her genitalia and once with his genitalia on her buttocks.

A video recording of the forensic interview was shown to the jury. The prosecution also called the social worker who conducted the interview, Jennifer Chaffin, to testify. Chaffin said that there had been “no red flags” that the girl might have been coached by adults or told what answers to give.

The girl was not Robinette’s only victim. A 32-year-old woman testified that from the time she was 8 or 9 until she was 13 or 14 years old, Tony Robinette molested her over 100 times and raped her 30 to 40 times.

When the prosecution asked how many times Robinette had molested her, the older woman replied, “Too many to count.” She said that Robinette threatened to harm her if she told anyone about the abuse, which stopped when she was a young teen.

“I thought he would be better,” she said. “He was going to church.”

When the older victim heard what had happened to the girl, she broke down and told Tammie Robinette what had happened to her years before.

Robinette’s biological daughter Amy Robinette also testified for the prosecution. Robinette stayed with his daugher around the time that the case was being investigated. She said that he prayed almost continuously. “Over and over he would pray and pray and pray,” she said. And while those prayers included love for his family, Amy Robinette said that they also included the hope that his  two victims would “keep their mouths shut.”

Testimony also came from a young Arkansas man named Bacil Smith who shared a bunk with Robinette in the Osage County Jail back in 2013. During a conversation with Smith, Robinette admitted to touching the girl sexually, but not to committing either of the two acts for which he was charged.

That conversation was taped, but rules of evidence prevented the recording from being submitted directly as evidence to the jury.

Smith said that he had traveled six hours to testify in this case and that he was not promised any reward for testifying. Why would you travel that far to testify in this case, the prosecution asked?

Without missing a beat, Smith gestured toward Robinette and said, “Because he’s a piece of s—!”

Tony Robinette’s attorney did his best to cast the prosecution’s testimony in an unfavorable light, often implying or stating outright that the witnesses stories were unreasonable.

For example, the defense argued that Tammie Robinette’s actions in February 2013 did not make sense if she truly believed that the girl was in danger. Why, the defense asked, didn’t she leave the night of Feb. 15 if she was so concerned about Tony Robinette’s treatment of the girl?

“He was my husband!” she answered. “I didn’t want to believe that he would be doing anything…!”

The defense called only one witness. Earlene Reedy, retired pastor of the United Methodist Church in Avant, was subpoenaed to testify as a character witness on Robinette’s behalf.

In May 2014, Robinette wrote a letter to the judge in his case. He wrote that he had not yet spoken with either his attorney or an investigator – though by this time he had been in jail since August 2013. Robinette was represented by a public defender.

The prosecution presented no physical evidence during the trial.

If the judge takes the jury’s recommendation and hands Robinette two life sentences on Aug. 6, it will be 76 years before Robinette is eligible for parole.

 

by Kyle Walker

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