WEST CHESTER – Prior to Sept. 13, 2011, Monique Robinson was just another senior at Phoenixville High School, an 18-year-old borough teenager embarking on her final year of grade school.
After the events of the following day, however, she became known by other terms. They included 'murder suspect,' then 'fugitive,' 'prisoner,' and now 'murder defendant.' A Common Pleas Court jury this week will be asked whether she should be known in the future by the phrase 'convicted felon,' or 'acquitted woman.'
Robinson, 19, is scheduled to go on trial in President Judge James P. MacElree II's courtroom today on charges of first, second and third-degree murder, as well as robbery and conspiracy. She is accused of being a participant in the robbery that left a 23-year-old Guatemalan native, Selvin Memerto Lopez-Maurico, dead.
If convicted of first or second-degree murder, Robinson faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
Lopez-Maurico was shot once in the abdomen on Sept. 14, 2011 while walking home from work at a Wendy's restaurant in Royersford with his uncle. He was carrying a backpack when, authorities say, Robinson and two men approached him and demanded the pack at gunpoint.
Although she did not carry the weapon that was used, nor fire the shot that killed Lopez-Maurico, Robinson could be found guilty of his murder because she was an accomplice in the robbery. The defense will have to convince jurors that not only did she not take part in the robbery and shooting, but that she did not know that either were going to happen.
The prosecution, led by Deputy District Attorney Peter Hobart, is expected to present testimony not only from a woman who said she saw Robinson hand the weapon used to the eventual gunman, and also saw her divide up the contents of the backpack that was stolen from Lopez-Maurico, but also from the two men who she was allegedly with at the time of the shooting, Saleem I. Williams and Stephen Reidler.
Both men have pleaded guilty to murder charges in the case and have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. The trial is expected to last the better part of a week.
In addition, Hobart was given the opportunity by MacElree to use evidence of Robinson's disappearance in the days following the shooting. She was sought as a fugitive for about three months after police issued a warrant for her arrest on Sept. 21, 2011, a week after the murder. She turned herself in to authorities on Dec. 27, 2011, accompanied by her attorney, Robert Donatoni of West Chester.
Donatoni had asked MacElree to exclude testimony about Robinson's disappearance from being heard by the jury. But Hobart argued that it could be sued to show a 'consciousness of guilt' on her behalf, and that she had ample warning through visits by police to her family that she was wanted.
According to a scenario laid out by Hobart in earlier proceedings, Williams and Reidler went to an apartment in the Phoenixville area in the afternoon of Sept. 13, 2011, where Williams was living with Reidler's cousin, Caitlin Schierenbeck. There, they smoked marijuana and discussed the possibility of robbing a drug dealer known as 'D.' They were unable to reach him by telephone however.
At some point in he evening, Robinson arrived, allegedly bringing with her a semi-automatic pistol. Robinson gave Williams the gun, although she indicated that she did not know whether it worked.
During the evening, there was a discussion about going on 'a mission' to rob someone, and the trio – Robinson, Williams, and Reidler – left the apartment sometime around midnight.
They encountered Lopez-Maurico walking home on Prospect Street with his uncle, who had met him as he got off a bus from Royersford. The trio approached him, and grabbed the backpack, while Williams allegedly pointed the gun at the uncle and threatened him.
The trio ran from the scene, with Robinson allegedly holding the pack. Lopez-Maurico ran after them and tussled with Robinson in an attempt to retrieve the backpack, which held his paycheck and money he was going t send to his family in Guatemala. Williams fired the gun at him and he collapsed on the street.
The three went back to the apartment where they had been partying, and divided up what was in the backpack - some Wendy's takeout food, restaurant uniform items, and Lopez-Maurico's paycheck.
Two days later, Robinson saw news of the murder on the Internet, and disappeared.