State v. Robinson

Decision Date26 June 1990
Docket NumberCR-88-0003-AP,Nos. CR-88-0002-A,s. CR-88-0002-A
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Fred Lawrence ROBINSON, and Theodore Washington, Appellants.
CourtArizona Supreme Court

ROLL, Court of Appeals Judge.

Fred Lawrence Robinson and Theodore Washington, along with co-defendant Jimmy Lee Mathers, were convicted of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, first-degree burglary, and armed robbery. All three defendants received death sentences for the murder and various terms of imprisonment for the remaining offenses. 1 This opinion addresses the appeals of Robinson and Washington. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to Ariz. Const. art. 6, § 5(3), and A.R.S. §§ 13-4031, 13-4033, and 13-4035. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the respective convictions and sentences.


Fred Robinson met Susan Hill in 1972 through a motorcycle club. Eventually Susan became Robinson's common-law wife. The couple parented three children, Andre, Truman, and Misha. They had lived together in a stormy relationship punctuated by periodic separations. Robinson verbally and physically abused Susan.

In February 1984, Susan left Robinson to go and live with her sister in Pacoima, California. Robinson confronted Susan in Pacoima and eventually forced her to return with him to his Banning, California residence. He told Susan that if she did not return with him, he would take her out to the desert and dispose of her where no one would ever find her.

In June 1986, Susan was staying with another sister in North Hollywood, California. Two men forced their way into the house and tied Susan's sister's and niece's hands together, all the while exhibiting small handguns. Susan hid in a closet. Soon she heard Robinson talking and then heard her sister ask her to come out. When Susan stepped from the closet, Robinson began to unbuckle a knife from his belt. Susan begged him not to take out the knife. Robinson told Susan that he had travelled to North Hollywood intending to kill her and her sister but had changed his mind because of the niece's presence. Susan then returned to Banning with Robinson.

In November 1986, without Robinson's knowledge, Susan went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to live with her aunt and uncle. When Susan mailed her children Christmas presents with a Philadelphia return address, Robinson discovered her whereabouts. In January 1987, Robinson went to Philadelphia to retrieve Susan. Jimmy Lee Mathers accompanied him on the trip. Robinson used a ruse to lure Susan to a train station. He then grabbed her and took her to California. Before Susan left Philadelphia, she told her aunt and uncle that something would happen to them if Susan did not return to Banning with Robinson.

Upon returning to California, Susan stayed with Robinson for approximately three weeks. In February 1987, Susan persuaded Robinson to permit her to go to her father's house in Yuma, Arizona, for one week. Her father, Ralph Hill, Sr., and stepmother, Sterleen Hill, lived in Yuma with their teenage son, LeSean. The Hills were well acquainted with Robinson. Susan lived at the Hill home nearly three weeks, during which time Robinson telephoned at least twice. Sterleen Hill told Susan to inform Robinson that Sterleen had obtained a peace bond against him and that Robinson should not enter upon their property. In a letter, Susan informed Robinson of her stepmother's statement.

Susan then went to Pacoima, California, to stay with her grandmother, then to Pasadena, California, to live with a sister. She did not notify Robinson that she had moved out of the Hills' home.

On June 8, 1987, in Banning, Robinson's son Andre was present when Robinson, Mathers, and Theodore Washington discussed going to Yuma. Washington was wearing a red bandana. Mathers told Andre that the trio was "going to Arizona to take care of some business." Robinson and Mathers put two handguns and a shotgun in Robinson's car. Robinson told Andre that he was going to Arizona to see if Susan was there. Robinson and Mathers left the residence travelling toward Washington's house. Washington, Robinson, and Mathers were last seen around 6:00 p.m. embarking on their trip in Robinson's tan Chevette.

Banning, California is approximately 175 miles from Yuma. Sometime around 11:30 p.m. that evening, Sterleen Hill heard sounds outside the Hills' Yuma home. She told LeSean to investigate but he saw no one. About 11:45 p.m., someone knocked on the door. When LeSean opened the door, a man with a deep voice identified himself as James and told LeSean that he had some money for Ralph Hill. When LeSean opened the door to accept the money, the man attempted to grab LeSean. LeSean pulled away, ran through the house past his parents' bedroom, and escaped through another door. Ralph and Sterleen Hill emerged from the bedroom as a result of the commotion and heard voices shout, "We're narcotics agents. We want the dope and the money." Ralph Hill could see shadows of two people but could not identify their voices. The two intruders forced Ralph and Sterleen to return to the bedroom and lie face down on the floor. Someone kept saying, "We know you got the money and the dope." During this time a black man with a red bandana and a moustache "screwed" a handgun into Ralph's ear, then ransacked the drawers and closet. A second person stood over Ralph and Sterleen. Someone said, "We better get the kid." Ralph's and Sterleen's hands were tied behind their backs and their feet were bound. After Sterleen requested that her feet be covered up, Ralph was rendered unconscious.

While events unfolded in the Hill home, LeSean telephoned the police from a neighbor's house. As LeSean and the neighbor were returning to the Hills' home, they observed a tan Chevette speeding away from the vicinity, pursued by a sheriff's deputy in a marked police vehicle. This deputy was responding to LeSean's phone call. Before arriving at the Hills' home, however, the deputy observed the tan Chevette, travelling without its headlights on, in the vicinity of the Hills' home. When the officer turned on his emergency equipment and told the driver to stop, the driver smiled at the officer and fled. The officer gave chase and eventually stopped the fleeing vehicle. Robinson was driving the Chevette. An empty shotgun shell box, a red bandana, clothing and sheets, and Mathers' duffle bag were inside the vehicle.

Ultimately, law enforcement officers entered the Hills' home and found that Ralph and Sterleen Hill had been shot at close range with a .12-gauge shotgun. Ralph Hill survived, although he suffered massive injuries, including the loss of an eye. Sterleen Hill died as a result of loss of blood from the shotgun wound. The officers searched the neighborhood and discovered assorted .38-caliber cartridges in some bushes and a trench coat with the name Eric Robinson on a piece of paper in the pocket. A neighbor of the Hills found a loaded cylinder to a .38-caliber handgun in her mailbox. A sterling silver lighter case and a watch were also found in the neighborhood. These items had been taken from the Hills' home, as was a small locked box containing a gold watch and some coins. A shotgun was found in some weeds close to a gas valve line. A criminalist determined that spent shotgun shells found at or near the murder scene had been fired by the shotgun found near the gas valve line. Andre Robinson identified this shotgun as one owned by his father, and Truman Robinson identified it as the shotgun his father wrapped in a pink and white sheet and placed in the tan Chevette on June 8, 1987.

At approximately 2:00 a.m. on June 9, 1987, Washington placed a telephone call to his girlfriend, Barbara Bryant. He gave her a Yuma telephone number at which he could be reached. Later, Washington called a second time and gave her a second Yuma telephone number. Bryant phoned Washington a total of three times at Yuma telephone numbers. During one of these conversations, Washington told her that he was stranded in Arizona. One phone number at which Bryant contacted Washington was assigned to the Yuma bus station. Washington returned to Banning by bus.

Susan Hill was notified of the shootings and travelled from Pasadena to Yuma with four sisters, a brother, and a brother-in-law. While en route, she picked up her children in Banning. On the trip to Yuma, they travelled through Coachella, California, where they observed Mathers walking toward Banning. Andre told Susan that Mathers had been with Robinson when Robinson left Banning the day before. The family members confronted Mathers, who stated that he was coming from Arizona and that Robinson was in Yuma. When the group told Mathers that they were going to make a citizens' arrest, Mathers fled into a nearby grocery store. The police were notified and took him into custody.


Robinson, Mathers, and Washington were indicted for first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, first-degree burglary, and armed robbery. The matter was tried to a jury, and all three were found guilty on all counts. Following an aggravation-mitigation hearing, the trial judge sentenced all three to death.


On appeal, Robinson and Washington argue that error occurred when (1) prior bad act evidence was admitted, (2) hearsay evidence regarding the murder weapon was admitted, and (3) the state was permitted to introduce hearsay evidence from a law enforcement officer to impeach the testimony of a friend of Washington, and (4) the trial court erroneously restricted the cross-examination of Barbara Bryant. Both Robinson and Washington argue that their death...

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