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HOLMBERG: Murder trial begins in dumpster baby death

Posted at 12:39 AM, Apr 29, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-29 07:56:51-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” testified Lee Medical Center maintenance supervisor Robin Porter. “I didn’t want to believe what I saw.”

It was a baby with a “head full of hair” that the tall maintenance man saw when he looked into the dumpster on the evening of May 28 2013. And, as he looked down in horror, he remembered the emotional pleas from one of his custodians, Olivia King, who just a little while earlier told him she believed a woman was aborting a baby in the 6th floor bathroom.

Their information quickly led to the arrest of 27-year-old Shavaughn Robinson, whose first degree murder trial began Monday.

Jurors heard testimony that Robinson was a hard worker who held down two jobs to support her little boy.

Trim, athletic, size 5, she was a self-employed massage therapist in the historic Lee Medical Building on Monument Avenue, overlooking the Robert E. Lee statue.

Jurors also heard from co-workers who said Robinson had gained weight that winter. One said Robinson certainly looked like she was pregnant and was trying to hide it.

And jurors also heard that Robinson was in bad shape that afternoon a year ago;  grey-faced, sick, lying down on one of the massage tables but refusing help, saying she had a stomach virus.

Custodian Olivia King, beginning her cleaning shift on that part of the sixth floor, heard someone in the women’s room, viciously ripping paper towels out of the dispenser. She went in and saw someone in the stall. There was water on the floor, along with specks of blood.

“She was crying,” King testified. She said she asked again and again if the woman was all right.

“She told me she had stomach problems,” King told the 10-woman, four-man jury (two alternates). “She was crying, saying. ‘I’ll be all right.”

Then she heard a baby cry, King said, and she ran to get her supervisor, Robin Porter.

But Porter testified that when he stuck his head in the bathroom , the young woman seemed together.

He and King sat outside of the bathroom and waited for the woman, who came out carrying something wrapped in clear plastic and brown paper in the crook of her arm – like a football, they both testified.

The woman – Robinson – went into one of the massage therapy suites on that floor and came out a few minutes later with a drawstring knapsack on her back.

The prosecutor in the case opened with some mean facts: the baby girl was born alive, fully developed,  that it wasn’t the child of Shavaughn’s boyfriend, that she desperately wanted to hide it, to make it go away.

But the defense, in its opening statements, said they will show that Shavaughn Robinson didn’t know what she was doing that evening, that she was having mental problems - including pregnancy denial -  and had previously suffered hallucinations.

Robinson, the defense will argue, believed she had passed some kind of purple doll out of her body and cleaned up afterwards because she didn’t want someone else to have to do it.

Shavaughn Robinson is far from the lean, vivacious young woman shown in older family photos. She sat heavily in the courtroom, moving little, watching distantly, pulling her sleeves down over her hands, like a child does, occasionally writing a note to her attorney with precise handwriting.

In order to get a first-degree murder conviction, prosecutors will have to prove she planned the death and disposal of her baby, that she deliberately killed it in the bathroom or left it to die in the dumpster.

The jury could also agree to a lesser murder or manslaughter charge.

The trial in Richmond Circuit Court is expected to last through Wednesday, barring a plea-deal.