Vernon Robinson turned his whiz-bang skills with computers and building management into a new, $70,000-a-year job in Minnesota, but his recent arrest in a 27-year-old Los Angeles murder changed all that last week.
And in a jailhouse interview Sunday, the former Los Angeles resident angrily and steadfastly maintained his innocence, although his fingerprints--fed through California’s fingerprint computer network--matched those found at Hollywood waitress Thora Marie Rose’s apartment after she was found murdered in her bed in October, 1963.
Now 45, Robinson waits in Hennepin County Jail here for records of his military service in the U.S. Navy--documents he contends will clear him. He is being held in lieu of $250,000 bail pending an extradition hearing Friday.
Robinson said Sunday he could not have committed the murder because a meningitis outbreak quarantined sailors going through boot camp in San Diego during the fall of 1963.
His Minneapolis defense attorney, Robert H. Meier, requested Robinson’s service records last week and plans to use them to fight extradition and the murder charge.
“I’m not going anywhere” Robinson said Sunday. “I came here with a job contract, and I intend to stay.”
Robinson said he passes the time by exercising and reading, including the Bible.
“What makes me angry is . . . make sure you’ve got your facts right before you go screwing up my life” he said. “I’m not hiding from anyone.”
Robinson claims he had never been in Hollywood until the late 1960s and had never heard of the murder victim until his arrest.
Tall with short hair and wearing black-rimmed glasses, the suspect looks professional even in his powder blue jail uniform and talks the part too.
Robinson, who served three years in San Quentin State Prison after a 1970 conviction for assault and robbery, was discharged from parole in 1976.
He said he cannot explain the fingerprint match, which came up during a police test of the computer system.
“They have a genius computer that tells them a man who’s been clean for 17 years was at the crime scene 27 years ago and committed a murder, and they ask me to explain it,” he said. “I say go ask the genius computer.”
Meier said the police are desperate to nail his client and expected an instant confession from him.
“They are trying to justify their mechanized witch hunt and are unhappy things didn’t fall right into place,” Meier said.
Robinson admits he has seen his share of trouble, but contends that is all part of his past. Since his 1970 conviction, he has stayed clear of trouble with the police--most of which had stemmed from drug and alcohol abuse, he said.
Four years ago, Robinson said, he underwent drug and alcoholism treatment.
“The irony was the night before the police picked me up, I led an AA group in Bloomington,” a Minneapolis suburb, he said. “I’ve made some mistakes. But since I walked out of prison in ’73, I’ve not had as much as a traffic ticket.”
Robinson, who works for American Building Maintenance Industries, was transferred to Minnesota on Nov. 30 to oversee facilities management at Hamline University in St. Paul. He had worked about six years at Los Angeles International Airport before his employer lost the maintenance contract in July.
Robinson said he grew up on the edge of Watts before his parents moved to Crenshaw Boulevard in the late 1950s looking for a better life. He said he was a championship swimmer and good student at Dorsey High School and was offered half a dozen college scholarships by his senior year.
But he entered the service instead when his high school sweetheart, Linda, whom he later married, became pregnant, he said. The couple have been separated for eight years, he said.
Robinson said he was introduced to drugs and alcohol in the service. After his discharge he lived the late 1960s in a drug- and alcohol-induced haze, he said.
Robinson disclosed Sunday that he also had served three years’ probation for an attempted rape and assault in 1965 in Long Beach. He maintains that he was innocent of both crimes, but admitted that he was at the scene.
“I was arrested a minimum of seven times,” Robinson said, “for everything--phony credit cards, fights, disturbing the peace.”
His behavior led to the separation from his wife, the suspect said. He traveled up and down the West Coast with prostitutes and drug dealers until his prison stint made him wake up, he said.
“It became clear to me that was not where I belonged and was not where I wanted to be,” he said.
After prison, he said, he turned his life around. He attended Los Angeles City College and a broadcasting school. Robinson said he worked as a disc jockey in Indianapolis, New York, Nashville and Portland, before entering the building maintenance business. Then he discovered new skills.
“My claim to fame is I took information about facilities management and turned them into computer programs,” Robinson said. He computes time and manpower needs for cleaning, security, parking and engineering systems among others.
“I don’t believe the God in my life helped me get sober, get to this point and drop me into this pit--this kind of hell,” he said.
Police have suggested that Robinson’s ready alibi is in itself suspicious. How could he so quickly recollect a date 27 years ago?
Robinson counters that 1963 marked the year he fathered a baby, left home, entered boot camp and got married.
“In October, 1963, my life was just beginning,” he said. “A person isn’t going to forget the details of that time--ever. Aside from prison, it was the most traumatic period of my life.”
Robinson said his attorney told him that Hollywood producers are interested in his story.
“They’re telling me they’re going to make a movie out of my life,” he said. “I don’t care about that. I want my life back.”