A Sacramento office worker and mother of five who had successfully eluded authorities for more than 15 years was convicted Tuesday in the 1972 hijacking of a PSA airliner over Los Angeles.
Ida McCray Robinson was found guilty of helping Allen Gordon Sims commandeer a midnight flight from San Francisco and holding a terrified flight crew at bay for nearly 12 hours.
Later, she blew a kiss to her 3-year-old son as she was led out of the Los Angeles federal courtroom in handcuffs.
The 36-year-old Robinson, whose modest suburban life belied her years as a fugitive, claimed that she had aided her lover years before because she was terrified that he would kill her, the passengers and the infant son she carried aboard the plane.
But crew members from the Los Angeles-bound commuter flight that eventually landed in Havana drew a portrait during testimony Tuesday of a “steely-eyed” woman with a gun in her hand chanting hymns of revolution.
“I don’t believe that she was forced into anything by Mr. Sims,” U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real concluded after a daylong non-jury trial.
Robinson, who had slipped back into the United States and started a new family after her release from Cuba, testified that Sims did not tell her until they had boarded the plane that he planned to hijack it.
“I was afraid of him,” she said. “He was totally erratic. He was domineering and uncontrollable. . . . I thought the best way to keep him calm was to make him feel he was covered. . . . I thought that was the best way to keep the peace.”
Sims and Robinson released the plane’s passengers at Los Angeles, but four flight attendants were taken to Tampa and Havana. The four said Robinson did not appear to be afraid and threatened to “blow the head off” of anyone who moved.
“She was very straight-faced, very steely-eyed, she had a give-me-a-reason attitude,” one attendant, Diane Bigley Elliott, testified. “My impression of her was that she would just love to pull that trigger. You give me a reason, and you’re dead.”
At one point, Robinson pointed a gun at off-duty flight attendant Mary Vanderussen and demanded that she crochet a bonnet for her infant son.
“I never made one before,” Vanderussen testified. “But I made one. She was adamant about it.”
Chief stewardess Cheryl Taylor, who said Robinson held her at gunpoint at the back of the plane, said she began shaking uncontrollably.
“She asked me if I believed in heaven and why I was afraid to die,” Taylor testified. Then, she said, Robinson put her hand across her chest and began chanting softly:
“The world began with evolution/The world is changing with revolution/Others ask us to be status quo/But we say no./Revolution.”
“She told me she was a revolutionary,” Taylor said. “She said she wanted to go to Cuba, where she would be treated equal, no matter what.”
Robinson was the only witness who testified for the defense. She said she could not remember many of the incidents the flight attendants recalled. The defendant said she feared that the plane would crash if Sims began shooting.
‘I Had a Job to Do’
“I didn’t want any bloodshed,” she said. “I really didn’t want to be part of it, but I was there, and I had a job to do.”
Under intense questioning from Real, Robinson said she could remember no specific threats Sims had made against her if she did not cooperate. She said she knew him well enough to know that he was dangerous. Sims is serving a 50-year sentence for his 1979 conviction in the hijacking.
Real rejected arguments that Robinson had been an unwilling participant.
“ ‘Turn around and I’ll blow your head off.’ You don’t say that out of fear. You say that out of a real desire for someone not to move,” the judge said.
Real was also skeptical that Robinson had been trying to calm Taylor when she chanted the revolutionary hymn.
“Chanting about revolution to try and calm you down when you’ve got a gun pointed at you is not a calming influence,” he said. “That’s almost sadistic.”
Robinson was arrested at her suburban tract home earlier this year when her teen-age son--the infant she had carried aboard the plane that day--told police that she had threatened to kill him.
Her conviction on the air piracy charge carries a mandatory prison term of at least 20 years. Sentencing was set for June 1.