AUGUSTA — A judge on Friday convicted a Chelsea man of domestic violence charges in an unusual case in which the prosecutor’s move to have the victim arrested ignited a fierce debate about victims’ rights and due process.
Robert A. Robinson Jr., 45, was tried in November on charges of domestic violence assault, domestic violence criminal threatening and domestic violence terrorizing stemming from the beating of his girlfriend, Jessica Ruiz, that took place over a two-day period at his home last April. Robinson opted to be tried by a judge instead of a jury and chose not to testify.
Justice Donald Marden rejected defense arguments that Robinson was sleepwalking and in an altered state of consciousness and therefore unaware of what he was doing most of the three-day period when Ruiz was assaulted. Marden concluded, “From the undisputed facts, it appears that the defendant engaged in a domestic violence assault, domestic violence criminal threatening and domestic violence terrorizing against Ms. Jessica Ruiz.”
Marden outlined the case in his 10-page written verdict, noting that Robinson and Ruiz had been together about five years, that Robinson had a history of being assaultive, and that Robinson “had suffered serious head injuries in two motorcycle crashes, the latest in 2012, resulting in some cognitive challenges.”
As part of the preparation for the case, District Attorney Maeghan Maloney had successfully sought a warrant to have Ruiz arrested as a material witness in September to ensure her appearance at Robinson’s trial. Maloney said she pursued that unusual measure after hearing that Ruiz had said “she was going to disappear” and only after consulting with the Family Violence Project, the local agency that aids victims of domestic violence.
“Arresting a material witness is always a last resort,” Maloney said Friday, repeating her earlier defense of Ruiz’s arrest.
Ruiz was freed after 17 hours in jail on the bail condition that she appear at the trial.
In Marden’s outline of the facts, he said Robinson on April 10 put a pillowcase over Ruiz’s head and threatened use a knife “to slit her throat” and harm her sexually, and bury her in a hole he had dug in the woods.
Ruiz testified that she became hysterical at that point even though Robinson had used only words to threaten her.
Maloney said previously that without Ruiz’s testimony, the case could have been dismissed because she was the only witness to the abuse.
“What it came to is that I would rather have to explain why she was arrested than why she was dead,” Maloney said. “It is not the course that we want to take, but it’s the course we have to take in the most dangerous cases where the victim is in danger of being killed.”
“My hope is that this verdict will send a message that you can testify without fear,” Maloney said. “Violent offenders need to understand that there is absolutely no excuse ever for domestic violence.”
Marden also noted that Robinson and Ruiz saw Robinson’s psychiatrist at Riverview Psychiatric Center on April 12 and requested medication to decrease Robinson’s agitation. Robinson took it and slept but later awoke and began whipping Ruiz — first with a belt and later a broken broom handle, according to Marden’s verdict.
Ruiz testified at the trial that Robinson stopped the beating as suddenly as he had begun it and acted as though nothing had happened.
When Robinson’s mother arrived at her son’s home and saw Ruiz’s condition April 12, she told her to leave. Ruiz drove to her mother’s home in Monmouth and emergency personnel were called.
Marden cited a report from a forensic psychiatrist who had evaluated Robinson for the State Forensic Service that said, “At the time of the allegations, Robert Robinson was not suffering from a mental illness that impaired his ability to form a culpable state of time, to act rationally, intentionally and in a planful, goal-directed way.”
On Nov. 27, 2013, the judge asked the attorneys — Assistant District Attorney Frayla Schoenfeld and defense attorney William Baghdoyan — to file closing arguments in the case, particularly addressing the issue of “altered state of consciousness” and related to “acquired brain injury.
Maine statute defines that as “an insult to the brain resulting directly or indirectly from trauma, anoxia, vascular lesions or infection, which “can produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness resulting in impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning”
Baghdoyan said on Friday, “We are still continuing to work on the case because there is still a related case pending.”
Robinson was indicted in July 2012 in Kennebec County Superior Court on charges of tampering with a victim, again Ruiz, and violating conditions of release between April 13 and May 22 in Augusta.