WEST CHESTER – Monique Robinson, the former Phoenixville Area High School senior who was found guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of a borough restaurant worker during an armed robbery, wept on Thursday, July 11, when her attorney made it clear what separated her from her co-defendants.
The two men who had helped rob the man as he made his way home from work and who accepted plea offers from the prosecution, including the man who actually fired the fatal shots, will each find themselves facing a release date from state prison sometime in the future.
Not Robinson, said veteran West Chester defense attorney Robert J. Donatoni.
“Miss Robinson, as things stand right now, is going to die in jail, and that is a tragedy of monumental proportions,” Donatoni said in addressing President Judge James P. MacElree II at sentencing.
Robinson, 20, of Phoenixville, dressed in the same coral colored blouse she wore during the trial in April when a Common Pleas Court jury found her guilty, dropped her head to her chest and began crying as she heard his words. Handcuffed at the defense table, she grabbed a tissue box and wiped tears from her eyes.
Tragic as her fate may have been, it was Robinson who had chosen it.
The judge noted, and Donatoni agreed, that she had been offered a plea bargain by the prosecution that would have allowed her to win her release – after serving 30-to-60 years in state prison. But she had rejected the offer and “rolled the dice” with the jury.
“This day didn’t have to come for you,” MacElree said before handing down the mandatory life in prison without parole sentence, plus an additional term of eight years and 10 months to 34 years in prison. “There could have been a different day and a different outcome. But you chose what you had to do and you have to live with that.”
Robinson, who at 18 was entering her final year at Phoenixville High when the shooting of Selvin Mamerto Lopez-Mauricio took place, did not address the court expect to indicate that she planned to appeal her conviction.
Lopez-Maurico, 23 at the time of his death and a native of Guatemala, was on his way home after finishing his shift at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant in Royersford early in the morning of Sept. 14, 2011. As he sat in an alley near his home on Prospect Street and spoke with his uncle, they were approached by Robinson and two men she was friends with, Saleem Williams, 22, of Sharon Hill, and Stephen Reidler, 26, of Linfield
The men accosted Lopez-Mauricio and his uncle, with Williams allegedly pointing a .22 semi-automatic handgun at the uncle. Testimony at her trial 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. Robinson then allegedly turned and told Williams, “Shoot him.” Williams shot Lopez-Mauricio once in the abdomen. He survived for some time afterward, 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 and $300 in cash he intended to send home to his family.
In addressing MacElree before the sentence, Deputy District Attorney Peter Hobart, who prosecuted the case against all three, asked that the judge impose consecutive time in the case to act as a “safety net” in case Robinson’s murder conviction should be overturned.
Donatoni, however, said he was almost certain that there were no significant appellate issues to raise, and that even if her conviction were overturned for some other reason it was very likely she would be convicted of the same offense again.
Hobart noted that Robinson, since her conviction, had not been on good behavior at Chester County prison, and had earned three infraction citations there.
Speaking on behalf of the victim’s family was his brother, Carlos Lopez. With the aid of an interpreter, Lopez thanked MacElree for his attention to the case and to all the police and prosecutors who had worked on it.
He said his family had a strong belief in hard work, and that his brother was looking forward to a new job that would help him earn money to support his parents at home in Guatemala. His death ended that dream, he said.
“I never thought that people were going to hurt him and take his life away. This is a very painful moment for me because I remember all that happened to my brother,” Lopez told the judge. “It was terrible what we had to go through. I live with the memory of my brother.”
Lopez was joined with other members of his family in the packed courtroom, and with supporters from the community who helped them deal with authorities. Likewise, there were several people in the courtroom supporting Robinson, including her mother and older sister.
Robinson was found guilty of second-degree murder, which is a murder committed in the commission of another felony, in this case robbery. She was also found guilty of firearms violations and of flight to avoid apprehension, after she disappeared in the days after Lopez-Maurico’s death. She eventually turned herself in after a nationwide manhunt by Phoenixville police and Chester County Detectives.