WEST CHESTER — The defense attorney for a Phoenixville teenager on trial for the shooting death of a Guatemalan immigrant urged the jury hearing the case on Thursday not to pin a guilty verdict on his client based on the two co-defendants who testified against her.
The men were “corrupt and polluted sources” whose version of events should be viewed with skepticism, said Robert J. Donatoni of West Chester in his closing arguments on behalf of his client, 19-year-old Monique Robinson.
Donatoni compared the pair’s testimony putting Robinson at the center of a planned robbery in September 2011 that led to the fatal shooting to biting into a candy bar and finding a worm inside. “You throw it away,” he said. “These guys are the worms crawling out of the candy bar.”
But the lead prosecutor in the case, in addition to defending the men’s testimony in the four-day-long trial as ultimately truthful, said the jury could find Robinson guilty of the charges against her simply by accepting the version of events spelled out by the victim’s uncle, who was at the scene while the shooting unfolded.
Deputy District Attorney Peter Hobart reminded the nine men and three women hearing the case that Esuardo Lopez — whose nephew Selvin Mamerto Lopez-Mauricio was shot once in the abdomen and later died — saw a woman later identified as Robinson grab a backpack belonging to the victim while two men accosted them on a dark street.
“That makes her involved in the robbery and therefore guilty of felony murder,” Hobart told the jurors during his summation. “There is no way around that. And that alone is enough. By definition that makes her guilty of second-degree murder.
“There are many paths up a mountain, but once you get to the top the view is always the same,” Hobart said.
Robinson, of Phoenixville, is charged with first-, second-, and third-degree murder, robbery, assault, conspiracy, and flight to avoid apprehension, and related charges in the Sept. 14, 2011, death of Lopez-Maurico in the 100 block of Prospect Street in the borough. She was a senior at Phoenixville High School at the time of the crime.
Testimony from the co-defendants, Saleem Williams, 21, of Sharon Hill and Stephen Reidler, 25, of Linfield, indicated that Robinson had secured the gun used in the shooting the afternoon before from her father’s home, and that she had joined in their conversation about “going on a mission” to rob someone and get money that night.
Lopez-Mauricio, 23, who emigrated to the borough from his native Guatemala and joined a growing Latino community there, was on his way home after finishing his shift at a Wendy’s fast food restaurant in Royersford early that morning. As he sat and spoke with his uncle near his home on Prospect Street, they were approached by two men and a woman. The men accosted Lopez-Mauricio and his uncle, with Williams’ allegedly pointing a .22 semi-automatic handgun at the uncle.
Testimony showed that Robinson grabbed Lopez-Maurico’s backpack, and Williams began punching him while Reidler kept the uncle from telephoning police. When Robinson ran from the scene Lopez-Maurico tried to chase her, she allegedly turned and told Williams, “Shoot him.”
Williams shot Lopez-Mauricio once in the abdomen. He survived for some time afterwards, but died on his way to Phoenixville Hospital.
After the shot was fired, the trio of Robinson, Reidler, and Williams then returned to an apartment on Bridge Street that Williams shared with his girlfriend. There, they divided up the contents of the backpack, including food that Lopez-Mauricio had brought home from Wendy’s for his late dinner. Hobart contended in his case that Robinson had kept $300 in cash she found in the backpack for herself.
The jury began its deliberations about 1:15 p.m. Thursday after listening to two hours of closing arguments by Donatoni and Hobart and about 90 minutes of legal instructions by MacElree. Part of the legal case that MacElree instructed the panel on was the concept of accomplice liability and how it would fit in with the charges Robinson faced.
To be guilty of a crime, one must be a principal, a conspirator, or an accomplice. In Hobart’s words, being an accomplice means being as much a part of a crime as a principal. “The get away driver is just as guilty as the bank robber,” he told the jury during his closing.
But Donatoni, on the other hand, counseled the panel that simply being a bystander to a crime does not make one guilty. “Yes, she was there, but she didn’t do this.” Mere presence at the scene of a crime is not proof of guilt, he said.
Donatoni, in his closing, argued two things – that the prosecution’s case was full of doubt because of the credibility of its key witnesses – Williams and Reidler — and that his client was facing far more serious charges than they pleaded guilty to, even though Williams had pulled the trigger.