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Robin has her day in court

Times Staff Writer

What do you say to the man who murdered your sister?

Kim Hoynes had 23 years to think about it -- longer than her sister Robin lived.

Now in a chilly, wood-paneled courtroom in Torrance, Kim, 47, stood at a lectern and smoothed her dark blue linen skirt suit. William Charles Marshall was just moments away from being sentenced to life without possibility of parole.

Kim had been writing notes to herself in the weeks since the jury took only five hours to find Marshall guilty. She had so many memories to search. How do you choose the moments that would bring Robin back to life, to get through to the man who took her life?

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The terrible news came on Halloween 1984. Ever since, the family has kept the Whittier home dark on the holiday, no pumpkins carved, no candy given out.

It would have meant so much to their father to be in court this day. Each morning after Robin’s death, Virgil Hoynes sat on the edge of his bed believing, if only for a second, that she would walk down the hallway to greet him. In 1995, still heartbroken and dying of emphysema, he took his own life.

Kim took a breath and opened the plastic-covered folder she’d carried into court along with a framed 8-by-10 photo of Robin for her mother to hold up.

Marshall, now 46, sat expressionless with his leather-bound Bible, just as he had each day of his monthlong trial. He was handcuffed, his legs shackled. He was so still it seemed as though he’d stopped breathing.

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“Do you know what murder means?” she asked him last Friday. “From the moment you hear it you wonder. . . . Did she die right away? Did she know what was happening? Was she sexually assaulted? My mom and dad worried about this until we were able to read the autopsy report weeks after she died.”

Her voice rose as Marshall sat with his back to her, unflinching.

“William,” she said, “you are responsible for this!”

It started with a note on the door. Lunchtime, Oct. 31, 1984.

Kim, 24, was the oldest of four daughters and the only one not still living with her parents. She’d left her job at the mall with a migraine. Her parents’ house was only a few blocks away, so she went there to rest. No one was home.

The note read: Please contact the Torrance Police Department regarding Robin Hoynes.

She let herself in and dialed the kitchen phone. Try back in 20 minutes, she was told; the officers you need to talk to aren’t here. She called her mother, who was baby-sitting for family friends. Ethel Hoynes wasn’t too worried. Robin had planned to stay with friends the night before. It’s probably just car trouble, she told her daughter. Kim hung up and dialed the police again.

“Kim Hoynes calling about Robin Hoynes. Is she OK?”

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“No, I’m sorry, she’s not,” the detective said.

Robin, 21, had been stabbed at work, a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, the night before. She was found that morning.

Kim wanted to tell her mother in person. She remembers the detective worrying about her driving but she got in the car anyway.

“I told her Robin had been -- for a long time we didn’t even say ‘murdered’ because the connotations of what that means were bigger than we could get around at the time. ‘Killed,’ I think maybe I said. Mom said I was lying to her, those were the first words out of her mouth: ‘You’re lying to me’ and I said ‘No, Mom, I wish I was.’ ”

Together they called Kim’s father, a maintenance man for Suburban Water Systems in West Covina, at work. The grim notifications had begun.

Wendy Hoynes was a 16-year-old La Serna High School junior. It was near the end of the school day. She was in her sixth-period biology class. She was dressed as a lion for Halloween.

There was a substitute teacher that day. An administrator opened the door and spoke briefly to the teacher. Wendy, who had only been to the principal’s office for student government meetings, needed to go with him.

In the hallway, she saw her cousin Beth walking toward her. How strange, she thought, that Beth was there. Then Beth was next to her saying: Robin was stabbed at work last night.

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“Did she die?” Wendy asked. Beth said yes. Wendy began to shake.

No one had called Tricia Hoynes, 18, at her job at Sizzler. When she came home, the street was lined with the cars of family and friends. Wendy and a cousin were standing on the front lawn. Tricia’s first thought was that their next door neighbor, an older woman who was like a grandmother to them, had passed away.

Instead, she heard someone say: Robin was killed. Tricia collapsed. They helped her into the house and took her to her bedroom. She sat down on the floor. Her mother said: “Bring her a Pepsi and her cigarettes.”

Tricia looked down at herself. She’d worn Robin’s high school flag team outfit to work for Halloween.

She started pulling at her clothes, screaming: “Get it off me.”

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Torrance police arrested William Charles Marshall 12 days after Robin was found dead.

Police suspected Marshall right away. He had been fired from the restaurant just days before the stabbing. On that day, co-workers had expected him to return his uniform and pick up a briefcase he’d left behind. At closing, there was still no sign of him. Detectives believed he showed up when Robin was alone counting the night receipts.

Whoever had done the killing also tried unsuccessfully to get into the safe. The owners had changed the combination after Marshall’s dismissal, concerned that he had been stealing from the store.

Detectives began following Marshall. On a Saturday night they trailed him to another Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Fountain Valley. Worried he was about to commit another crime, they arrested him. When Marshall was booked into jail, he was wearing gloves and hiking boots and carrying a boning knife. It was all booked in as evidence.

His girlfriend at the time told police he was home with her the night of the murder. Prosecutors looked at the evidence and declined to file charges, hoping the case would get stronger at a later date. Days after his arrest, Marshall was released from jail.

Robin Hoynes had been buried the week before at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier. The services were so full that people spilled outside the chapel.

Kim helped her parents choose a coffin, a burial plot, clothes to bury Robin in. One decision was simple. Shortly before her death, Robin had played question and answer with her church Bible study group. If you died tomorrow, she’d been asked, what would you want on your tombstone?

The pastor took her answer to her parents: “Robin’s not here, she’s gone home.”

Kim’s parents leaned heavily on her. She moved back home for more than a week.

When she went back to her rental house, she woke her roommates one night with her sobbing. She had gone to Disneyland with cousins in town from Oregon for Robin’s funeral, a rare moment of normality in those first days. Weeks later, in her nightmare, she was back in Tom Sawyer’s treehouse, searching for her little sister.

“I was looking for Robin and I couldn’t find her anywhere,” she said.

They believed police had probably found the killer when they arrested Marshall, but they knew few details of the investigation. Years passed with no word. They consoled themselves with the belief that if Robin’s killer didn’t face justice in his lifetime, he would in death.

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In October 2003, the phone rang in the Hoynes home.

Ethel Hoynes, whose health had grown frail over the years, was stunned by the voice on the line. The Torrance police were calling. She called out to Kim who had moved home the month before to help her.

“Kim, Kim,” she shouted. “You have to take this call.”

Torrance Police Det. Jim Wallace explained that cold case investigators believed they had a break in the case. Wallace had linked a small piece of foam found at the crime scene to the boots Marshall was wearing when he was arrested 20 years before.

But, he cautioned, they still had a long way to go. He could make no promises.

Once again it fell to Kim to let others know.

She called Tricia at work. Now Tricia Van Voorhis, she had been a mother herself for years, with two teenage children who had never known their Auntie Robin. For Tricia, the news hit with nearly the same intensity she’d felt the day of the murder. She’d often thought about the man police suspected, wondered if he was the one, if he was crippled by guilt.

Now in her 30s, Wendy in many ways felt frozen in time emotionally, struggling to move beyond her teenage self. Losing Robin had felt like losing her own place in the family. At 16, she hadn’t even had the language, the right words, to explore her own grief. At times, Wendy was even afraid of Marshall, wondering if he might be close by. She never really understood the motivation for the crime. She worried he might have something against the whole family.

The wait for an arrest was difficult, in some ways more so than all the years the Hoynes family had no hope for a day in court. So two years after the phone call from police, the family sat down together to write a letter to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. It was hard work to boil down the decades into a few short paragraphs, but they wanted him to know how special Robin was, how much she was missed. Please, they asked him, do not let this case go unprosecuted.

Not long after, the Hoynes sisters gathered at Wendy’s home. She made pork chops and applesauce, Robin’s favorite. For the first time since the murder, they shared happy memories.

Robin taking forever to open Christmas presents. Robin singing the Oscar Mayer jingle in her funny high voice. Robin taking longer than anyone else to say a prayer. Robin sitting at the kitchen table until 2 or 3 a.m. playing Risk with her friends.

In September 2006, Marshall was taken into custody at the Thousand Palms firehouse where he was a captain for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. News that the man suspected of killing Robin had worked for years as a firefighter came as a shock to her family.

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How could a man police believed to be a killer have gone on to work in a field known for saving lives?

Kim imagined just screaming and ranting at him until he understood how she felt. At a preliminary hearing after his arrest, though, he seemed without emotion.

When the trial began last month, the testimony in court was revelatory for the family. Marshall’s former girlfriend recanted her earlier claim that he was with her the night of the murder. She testified about details of the crime never released to the media.

Their hearts broke when the co-worker who found Robin’s body on the restaurant’s kitchen floor got so upset on the stand that the judge called for a break. She rushed past them in tears. She had asked Robin to switch shifts with her that day. She imagined that the family hated her.

Some haunting questions were answered. Why had Robin let her killer in? It had always bothered them. When they heard that Marshall had been expected at the restaurant that day, it made sense to them that she would have opened the door.

Tricia had never believed that Robin had died quickly. As she listened to testimony and viewed the crime scene photos for the first time, the scene became clear in her mind. The killer had stabbed Robin in the back. She had no defensive wounds. Robin would have fought, Tricia knew, if she’d had any idea she was being attacked.

Prosecutors argued that Marshall went there that night intent on killing whoever opened the door and robbing the place. When he could not get the safe open, they told jurors, he slit Robin’s body across the throat in anger.

On Sept. 28, the jury found Marshall guilty.

The sisters spoke to jurors that day. The foreman told them his birthday was Oct. 31, 1984. A baby born on the day they learned Robin was dead had grown up to find her killer guilty.

“That was God working,” Kim said.

--

The Hoynes expected no admission of guilt or expression of remorse from Marshall when they went to court Friday for his sentencing.

They watched as Marshall’s attorney filed a notice of appeal. His client would have nothing to say. Members of Marshall’s family sat in the middle rows.

Just across the aisle, the Hoynes’ extended family and friends filled the left side of Superior Court Judge Mark S. Arnold’s small courtroom. Arnold asked if anyone from the family wanted to address the court.

Wendy Hoynes Castaneda, utterly poised, went first. Three weeks before the trial had begun, she’d gotten married. She had missed Robin, and her father, on her wedding day but much had changed. She called the last four years, since the case was reopened, “a season of deep healing.”

“My grief would come like a thief in the night with no warning of coming or going. Like an unpaid debt, my pain accrued tremendous interest over the years and often overwhelmed me. . . . Knowing the whole truth of Robin’s murder would eventually set me free.”

Tricia had smoked one cigarette to calm her nerves before taking the elevator up to the fourth-floor courtroom. Still, she struggled to speak. “I’m sorry,” she told the judge in a strained voice. She could hear her heart pound. Robin’s murder left a void, she said, tingeing every joyous occasion since with sadness. The crime altered her parents’ reaction to every normal teenage thing she did. She spoke of how hard it was to watch Marshall day after day show “not even one sign of guilt or remorse.”

If he felt nothing for her family, she hoped he regretted what he had done to his own.

“Now as you sit in your cell, day after day, year after year, I hope you spend a great deal of time thinking about the pain you have caused your own loved ones.”

Kim went last. When she spoke of her father’s suicide, Marshall’s own father winced. She thanked everyone who had worked on her sister’s case. She said she wished that other families still waiting for justice would also get it.

“Years don’t make the hole disappear,” she said.

Today, Oct. 31, 2007, will mark a new chapter for her family. Days after Marshall’s conviction, Ethel Hoynes turned to her oldest daughter and said, “I guess we need to buy some Halloween candy.”

“This may not sound like a very important statement,” Kim told the court, “but in the 23 years that Robin has been gone, it will be the first candy to be given out at my mom’s. We can do this now knowing that October 31 doesn’t only represent the day we found out about Robin’s death. We can now take comfort that she has had her day in court and justice has prevailed.”

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megan.garvey@latimes.com


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