By Matt Ward
Jury selection begins today in the Daniel Robbins murder case.
Robbins was arrested in August last year on charges stemming from the shooting death of 21-year-old Christopher Mundy, a man dating Robbins’ then 19-year-old daughter, Jennifer. A 14-year-old boy with Mundy at the time of the shooting was injured.
The Robbins case has had a number of legal twists and turns. His trial is expected to last as many as nine days. He’s been in Nye County custody without bail since his arrest on a count of open murder as well as other charges.
On Monday, District Court Judge Robert Lane, who will preside over the trial, heard arguments on some last minute motions in the case as well as took care of some pre-trial housekeeping matters.
Lane first denied a defense motion seeking to keep the state’s witnesses from using the word “murder,” or “execution” or “homicide” during the trial. The defense argued that such language could prejudice the jury.
Arnold Weinstock, one of two attorneys representing Robbins in the case, delivered the defense argument for the motion.
“I don’t want any of the state’s witnesses or any of our witnesses to say anything that would suggest that what did occur in this case was a murder. That’s something that’s up to the jury to decide, whether it was a murder or manslaughter, excusable homicide, whatever,” Weinstock said. “All we are asking is that when the incident is referred to that it is not referred to as a ‘murder,’ as an ‘execution,’ as a, you know, ‘justified homicide,’ anything along those lines. It is the ‘incident,’ the ‘shooting.’”
When it was the state’s turn to argue against the motion, Deputy District Attorney Tierra Jones confusingly seemed to agree with much of what Weinstock was saying, save for mentioning the word “homicide,” which is simply the legal term for taking another’s life.
“As far as a homicide goes, the state isn’t in any agreement on homicide because by legal definition it is a homicide,” she said.
Lane, taken aback by the state’s seeming acquiescence, asked why prosecutors would stipulate to such an order, particularly since the defense attorney cited no other legal authority than “common sense” when making his motion.
Jones at that point backtracked and told the judge the state totally opposed the defense motion and was merely arguing that prosecutors had no intention of directly eliciting such testimony from witnesses in the first place.
Lane asked Weinstock what the defense would do if the motion against using the word “murder” or any of the other words were granted and then a witness accidentally referred to Mundy’s shooting death as a murder anyway.
“So if I grant your motion and issue an order that none of the witnesses are allowed to mention murder, execution, unjustifiable homicide, if I give them that and then one of them do, do you move for a mistrial?” he asked.
“Yes, I do. Absolutely, your honor, I believe that is my right,” Weinstock responded.
Lane then quickly denied the motion.
A second motion on the table brought less argument between the two sides. This one sought to keep a tape recording of a phone call from Robbins’ daughter to Mundy out of the trial. Before the hearing, it appeared the two sides came to an agreement that the tape wouldn’t be played for jurors unless it was used as rebuttal evidence to impeach testimony given by Robbins’ daughter, who will be called by one or both sides as a witness in the case.
At the time of the shooting, Jennifer Robbins was in jail, having been arrested earlier the day before after a domestic dispute with her sister. She allegedly called Mundy from the jail and asked him to go retrieve some belongings and a car from her parents’ home. Mundy engaged her parents in a heated dispute via Facebook before driving to the Robbins home, showing up there after 1 a.m. Robbins and his wife confronted Mundy. A warning shot was even fired into Mundy’s car bumper before Robbins walked over to the driver’s side door and allegedly fired the fatal shot, killing Mundy and injuring his passenger.
The judge waved through the agreement over the last motion before moving onto other business, particularly the logistics of jury selection and trial.
As many as 60 potential jurors will be seated in one courtroom while six people at a time are ferried to another courtroom and questioned by both sides. After both sides cull the 60 down to 40 potential jurors, the sides will then narrow their selection down to 12 jurors and two alternates. Opening arguments could take place this afternoon, depending upon how long it takes each side to pick the jury.
Once the trial starts, it will potentially last up to the day before Thanksgiving, starting today, going through Friday, taking Monday and possibly two other days off next week and then going though Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the week of Thanksgiving. The jury will decide guilt or innocence but not the penalty phase.
The Robbins case is considered high-profile for a number of reasons. First, Robbins was a law enforcement trained employee of the state’s gaming control board who lost his job several weeks before the shooting. Second, families on both sides, the victim and suspect’s have each often come to court creating an emotionally-charged atmosphere that has caused judges presiding over the case to admonish them for outbursts in court. Robbins’ supporters typically sport purple shirts to court in a show of solidarity.
Robbins’ attorneys have repeatedly tried to get their client out of jail on bail. But two local judges and the Supreme Court have all refused to grant him bail.
Lane, as a matter of fact, was not originally supposed to preside over the case. Newly appointed Judge Kimberly Wanker first received it in her court. After a hearing earlier this year, however, a courthouse taping system caught the judge and her staff discussing the case outside the presence of the attorneys and the public. A tape of the private banter — a few disparaging comments were made about Robbins and his conduct during taped jailhouse conversations with his wife — ended up in the hands of defense attorneys who used it in an attempt to get Wanker ousted from the case. Wanker simply recused herself when the effort came to light.
Lane used the opportunity Monday to remind Robbins family members and other court watchers that he would not hesitate to jail anyone who disrupts the proceedings over the next few days.
Robbins faces life in prison if convicted of murdering Mundy.