n Virginia in 2005, Reed Smith agreed at the 11th hour to assist death row prisoner Robin Lovitt, whose execution was imminent. Reed Smith attorneys were asked to participate in Robin’s representation in 2005 by his long-time volunteer counsel, former federal Special Prosecutor and U.S. Solicitor General Ken Starr, then with the firm Kirkland & Ellis. Reed Smith lawyers arranged a face-to-face meeting with Governor Mark Warner on the day of the scheduled execution. The governor granted the clemency petition, sparing Robin’s life.
Like many death row inmates, Robin had a troubled childhood. He grew up the eldest of twelve children in an abusive household where his alcoholic father would often beat him, his siblings, and his mother. One sister testified that her father randomly chose whom to molest when he came home drunk after work; another testified that she feared her first child had been fathered by him. Robin’s mother and stepfather used drugs, and Robin followed in their footsteps, drinking his first beer at five, smoking marijuana at seven, turning to speed and heroin as a teenager, and then PCP and crack cocaine.
In 1998, Robin was convicted and sentenced to death for the killing of a pool hall manager in Arlington, Virginia. Robin admitted to being at the scene that night and participating in a robbery, but consistently maintained that he did not kill the victim. On appeal, volunteer lawyers exposed many glaring irregularities in Robin’s trial, including ineffective trial counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, questionable circumstantial evidence, inconclusive DNA tests, deliberate destruction of evidence, and suspect testimony from the sole eyewitness. The eyewitness told police that he only saw the killer for a few seconds and that he was not sure he could identify him. He also stated he was not 100% certain in his identification of Robin, and in an affidavit sent to the governor before Robin’s clemency was granted, he told the governor that he did not want Robin to be executed because of his doubts.
Then, a court employee intentionally destroyed all the physical evidence while the case was on appeal, depriving Robin of any chance for exoneration through DNA testing. The courts, however, were unwilling to grant relief. The Fourth Circuit declared that, although the court employee made a “serious error in judgment,” Robin was not entitled to relief because he could not prove that the evidence was destroyed in “bad faith.” The Supreme Court subsequently refused to hear the case.
On November 29, 2005, Governor Warner granted clemency to Robin, citing concerns about the destruction of evidence. He said, “The actions of an agent of the Commonwealth, in a manner contrary to the express direction of the law, comes at the expense of a defendant facing society’s most severe and final sanction. . . . The commonwealth must ensure that every time this ultimate sanction is carried out, it is done fairly.” Robin is currently serving a sentence of life without parole.