On Two Counts Of
BY KEN LITTLE
A three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, meeting at Knoxville, has ruled that a Greene County man convicted of trying to hire someone to kill two people must have a new sentencing hearing.
But William Franklin Robinette's conviction on two counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder was affirmed, the appeals court said.
In a ruling filed Monday, the appeals court panel noted that that no pre-sentence report was prepared prior to Robinette's sentencing hearing, so the case must be remanded for a new sentencing hearing.
Greene County Sheriff's Department detectives charged Robinette in May 2010 with soliciting the first-degree murder of two people, one of them a man charged along with him in regard to multiple thefts in April 2010.
Robinette, 48, formerly of Gap Creek Road in Bulls Gap, was sentenced on Jan. 27, 2012, by Circuit Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr.
A few weeks prior to sentencing, a Greene County Criminal Court jury found Robinette guilty of the two counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder.
Earlier, Robinette was convicted in September 2011 of theft over $1,000 and less than $10,000, and theft over $10,000 and less than $60,000.
Dugger sentenced Robinette to 10 years on the second theft count and six years on the first count, to be served concurrently.
For each solicitation count, Dugger sentenced Robinette to 20 years in prison, with the sentences to be served consecutively.
Adding the previously imposed sentence, Robinette is currently serving a total effective prison term of 50 years.
According to the appellate court opinion, Robinette's solicitation convictions come from his offering to pay a man and woman to kill Rick Bowser, a co-defendant in a theft case, and Bowser's girlfriend, Ina Roberts.
In April 2010, Robinette and two other men were charged with stealing a truck loaded with treated wood and a Bobcat-brand loader.
Also in April 2010, in a similar but separate crime, Robinette and another man were charged in connection with the theft of a truck loaded with treated wood from the East Tennessee Forest Products facility on Pottertown Road.
The truck and its contents were valued at $108,000, authorities said.
After Robinette approached the man and woman to arrange the killings, the Greene County Sheriff's Department was contacted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation about the solicitation of murder.
The man contacted by Robinette about the proposed murders met with him on May 25, 2010, at a Wendy's restaurant.
The man who met with Robinette was equipped with a listening device, and investigators outside heard the conversation and made notes.
Robinette wanted to move to a nearby Stuckey's restaurant, and the two men continued their talk there.
"During the conversation, the appellant asked (the man) 'about blowing up a trailer. In order to do that he needed propane tanks and a water hose," the appellate court opinion said.
The conversation was not recorded, and the men met again the next day, along with the prospective hit man's girlfriend.
A camera was placed in her purse, and the man was given an air compressor hose and two propane tanks to bring along. He also had the listening device.
In a conversation recorded outside a house on Baileyton Road, Robinette told the man and woman he wanted them to blow up the home occupied by Roberts and Bowser, and explained how to do it using propane.
During the trial, investigators said Robinette mentioned paying $5,000 for the deaths of the co-defendant and his girlfriend.
In its opinion, the appellate court panel ruled that audio and video recordings of Robinette during the meetings, along with a transcript, "were properly authenticated, were relevant, and were not unfairly prejudicial."
The court also agreed with the state that the trial court correctly allowed the transcript to be distributed to the jury as an aid to listening to the recording.
Robinette, through lawyer Lindsey Lane, argued that he was "prohibited from cross-examining the victim, Ina Roberts, due to her failure to appear at trial (and that) his inability to cross examine the victim violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation."
In his appeal, Robinette contends that the trial court should have dismissed count two of the indictment.
The state, through Cecil Mills Jr., assistant district attorney general, replied that Robinette's right to confrontation "was not implicated in this situation" because Roberts didn't testify and her statement was not used against Robinette at trial.
The appellate court agreed.
The appellate court also concluded that the proof presented at trial "was sufficient to sustain the appellant's two convictions for solicitation of first-degree murder."
LENGTH OF SENTENCE
Robinette maintains that the trial court erred in determining the length of each sentence and by imposing consecutive sentencing. The state disagreed.
Judge Norma McGee Ogle wrote the opinion on behalf of the three-member appellate court panel.
"In sum," she wrote, "we conclude that there was sufficient evidence to sustain the appellant's convictions, and that the trial court did not err in admitting the recording and transcript of the solicitation, and that the trial court did not err in failing to dismiss count two. Therefore, we affirm the appellant's convictions.
"However, because the trial court sentenced the appellant without a pre-sentence report, we must remand for the preparation of a pre-sentence report and resentencing," the opinion concludes.
No resentencing date for Robinette has been set. He is currently serving his sentence in Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City.