Stansbury in 5th Day on Stand

Times Staff Writer

Inconsistencies in the testimony of Robert Edward Stansbury, an ice cream vendor accused in the 1982 rape and murder of a Baldwin Park girl, have emerged as a major issue here as his Superior Court trial enters its 10th week.

Stansbury, who was on parole for a rape conviction when he was arrested in September, 1982, has testified that he talked briefly to his alleged victim, 10-year-old Robyn Jackson, when he entered her neighborhood to sell ice cream on the day she disappeared. But he has denied abducting and murdering her.

Stansbury's testimony, which is expected to enter its fifth day today, has been marked by bitter exchanges between him and Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Burns as the prosecutor has attempted to force Stansbury to recant several statements made during a pretrial hearing in October.

Grueling Episode

"Mr. Burns, you can twist my words any way you desire," Stansbury said after one particularly grueling episode of questioning. "But if you go back and read them, you'll find some equivocation there."

Replied Burns: "I'm sure you'll find some equivocation, Mr. Stansbury."

Robyn's body was found in a Pasadena flood control channel the morning after her disappearance. Medical experts have testified that she died of asphyxiation and a skull fracture suffered when she was thrown into the ditch.

The prosecution maintains that Stansbury, 42, hid the girl in the ice cream chest on his truck the night she disappeared, then borrowed a neighbor's car to carry her body to the channel. Earlier in the trial, a woman gas station attendant testified that on the night of Robyn's disappearance, she sold gasoline to a man who drove up to her Arrow Highway station in an ice cream truck. She also identified Stansbury as the man she saw standing next to the truck when she walked out to the pumps to help another customer. The woman told the court she saw a frightened little girl looking out a window of the truck.

Hitchhiker Mentioned

The prosecution has alleged that Stansbury may have picked up a hitchhiker before pulling into the station and had him pay for the gas in an attempt to conceal his own identity.

Burns has questioned Stansbury in detail about the defendant's memory of events before and after Robyn's disappearance, prompting Stansbury to admit errors in his earlier testimony and to repeatedly use the phrase, "I don't recall."

On Tuesday, after one such admission, Stansbury, who is acting as the chief counsel in his own defense, turned angrily to Judge James Piatt.

"Your honor," he said, "at this time I would like to call time for legal arguments outside the presence of the jury for the purpose of citing Mr. Burns for misconduct."

Motion Denied

"Motion denied," Piatt said. "Mr. Burns, you may proceed."

The streets Stansbury used to make his way home after he left the Baldwin Park neighborhood have been a major focus of Burns' cross examination.

According to evidence introduced during the trial, Stansbury first told Pomona police detectives that he drove from the Baldwin Park area along Arrow Highway to his trailer home in Pomona. But at a pretrial hearing last October, Stansbury said that a few days after talking to police, he recalled that he had taken other streets home that day to avoid a steep grade on Arrow Highway because his truck was having engine problems.

Another issue is Stansbury's statement at the pretrial hearing that he had seen no maps or diagrams that might have caused him to change his testimony about his route home.

'Own Little Brain'

"You didn't have any map books or any maps showing this particular area?" Burns asked Stansbury. "You just remember this in your own little brain, is that right?"

"In my own brain, yes," Stansbury replied.

Burns has said in court that he is planning to call six more witnesses to rebut portions of Stansbury's testimony, but that all six should finish testifying within two or three days. Stansbury is expected to be the final defense witness, and the defense has said it plans to make closing arguments by next Friday.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World