A jury deliberated just seven hours Tuesday before returning a guilty verdict against a man accused of a brutal Hollywood slaying that occurred 30 years ago.
Vernon M. Robinson, 48, who was arrested in 1990 through a computerized fingerprint analysis system, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the Oct. 3, 1963, death of Thora Marie Rose. A drugstore clerk, Rose was bludgeoned and strangled to death in her bed during what police believed was a burglary and attempted rape.
The professorial-looking Robinson, who will be sentenced Dec. 13, faces the possibility of life imprisonment.
Robinson was a cleaning company executive when he was arrested in Minneapolis three years ago. Police found him by using what was then a relatively new computer system that matched fingerprints found at the murder scene to newer prints of Robinson’s that were on file. The prints were the only physical evidence that linked Robinson to the crime.
Robinson contended that he could not have committed the murder because it happened when he was in San Diego as an 18-year-old Navy recruit at basic training camp.
Jurors who commented on their verdict Tuesday said they did not believe the alibi.
The case attracted national attention because of the remarkable lag between the killing and the trial--twice as long as any similar case that the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Paul W. Turley, could find.
After the verdict, Turley praised the investigative skills of the original police officers on the case and said the conviction showed the strength of fingerprint evidence.
“The message (to criminals) is that fingerprints are indeed incriminating evidence and they don’t go away,” he said.
As the jurors left the courtroom after returning their verdict, Robinson sat at the defense side of the table staring straight ahead, occasionally taking deep gulps of air.
His lawyer, Bruce G. Cormicle, said later that his client was devastated by the verdict and that it took him several minutes to “get himself together” enough to walk from the courtroom.
Cormicle criticized the speed in which the jury reached its verdict and vowed to seek a new trial.
“It just boggles the mind that they could have considered all the evidence and the instructions (from the judge) in that time,” he said. “There was so much that they obviously didn’t consider.”
The verdict was so unexpected that Robinson’s family and supporters from their church did not have time to get Downtown to be in the courtroom.
Thora Rose’s daughter, who sat in the rear of the courtroom with her fingers in her ears during the closing arguments so she would not have to hear the details of her mother’s death, also was not present for the verdict.
Five jurors, who talked to reporters after the verdict on the condition that their names not be made public, said the most compelling evidence was Robinson’s 35 fingerprints and palm prints. The prints were found on panes that had been removed from Rose’s kitchen window, from a sink below the window, from her bathroom and from the jamb of her bedroom door. But they said they were willing to believe that there was an explanation other than murder for the prints’ existence.
What turned the tide against Robinson, they said, was that a rod--removed from the kitchen window--was found in the bedroom, indicating that Rose’s attacker had come through the kitchen window and left his fingerprints all around it.
The jurors also said that Robinson’s credibility was eroded by Navy records that showed he was not in basic training when the Rose slaying occurred, as he contended, and that his only alibi witness--a man who has since died--was mistaken or lying when he said he was in basic training with Robinson in San Diego.
The most damaging record, jurors said, was a letter Robinson wrote to Navy officials in 1966 in which he said he had only been in basic training a week. During the trial, Robinson testified that he had been in training for months.
Robinson’s lawyer had attributed the discrepancies to the passage of time, but the jurors said that mattered little to them.
“Whether it was one year, two years or 30 years ago, it didn’t matter because all we looked at was the evidence,” one juror said.