After months of haggling, the man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend on Facebook Live will be represented by two death-penalty-qualified attorneys in his first-degree murder trial.
Johnathan Robinson, 37, is accused in the April 12, 2018 death of Rannita Williams, as a horrified world watched him commit the crime and police stood helplessly outside trying to negotiate with him.
Earlier this month, the Baton Rouge Capital Conflict Office in Baton Rouge submitted a Motion to Enroll as council, promising to provide two capital-certified attorneys, a mitigation specialist and investigator, to defend Robinson.
But it was a long-time coming.
At the time of his arrest, Robinson was charged with 2nd Degree murder in Williams’ death, and the local public defender’s office was assigned to represent him.
That all changed, however, when a Caddo Grand Jury upped the charge to 1st Degree Murder, and the Caddo District Attorney issued a “letter of intent to seek the death penalty.” That meant Robinson could no longer be represented by the local public defender’s office, as it does not represent death-penalty defendants.
Robinson’s case was referred to the Louisiana Public Defender Board and it has been an uphill battle ever since, as the state board said it could not provide an attorney to represent Robinson due to budgetary issues.
The LPDB does not directly represent death penalty defendants, but is the umbrella that funds The Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana, The Louisiana Capital Assistance Center and the Baton Rouge Capital Conflict Office – the three 501(c)(3) non-profit law firms that represent defendants facing the death penalty.
The state board said there was no money to take on Robinson’s case at the time, though said he was No. 2 on the list of death-penalty defendants seeking representation. However, they also said Robinson could drop to No. 3, if an older death penalty case was overturned and sent back for a new trial.
But the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office wasn’t buying it, and in an effort to get to the bottom of the issues the state board claimed it was facing, Caddo District Judge Ramona Emanuel ordered a Special Master be appointed to investigate the financial and manpower issues the State Board claims it has.
At the request of the prosecution prior to a hearing with the State Board in September, Emanuel issued an order asking the board provide a wide range of documents detailing funding death penalty cases, including the defendants represented, along with expenses related to their defense, along with attorneys, investigators, mental health specialists, expert witnesses, etc
But at the September hearing, prosecutors complained they had not received all the documents they requested. The State Board claimed many of the things requested could be found on line, and that others were protected by attorney/client privilege, and filed a motion to quash the order, which Emanuel denied, though she allowed the exception of attorney/client privileged information.
On Oct. 30, Emanuel asked each of the entities involved in the case – the State Public Defender Board, the Caddo Public Defender’s office and the district attorney’s office to each provide the names of two attorneys with forensic experience, in order to select a Special Master from that pool of six.
The Special Master became moot, however, when the BRCCO filed their motion to enroll on Nov. 4.