Twenty years ago, Robert Roberson says that he took his 2-year-old daughter, Nikki Curtis to Palestine Regional Medical Center after she fell out of her bed. The baby died at Children’s Hospital in Dallas on February 1, 2002. Roberson was arrested and charged him with capital murder for his daughter’s death. Roberson was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2003 for the death of Nikki Curtis, his two-year-old daughter. He has been on death row in Texas for 20 years accused of shaking and beating Nikki so bad that she died.
Twenty years later, on January 31, 2022, Roberson’s attorney Gretchen Sween says, “It’s just sort of unfathomable the nightmare he has been living”. Sween argued in a benchtrial that Niki was not shaken to death or beaten, but that she had other health problems, pneumonia, and that she was given medication that today the FDA warns is not safe. Sween argued in front of Judge Deborah Evans saying that Niki was prescribed medication that today the FDA warns should not be given to children her age and that Nikki’s cat scans show one blow to the head, which Sween says are indicative of injuries from a fall, not from abuse.
“Shaken baby became an accepted diagnosis without anybody even thinking about that. That if you shake an infant, let alone a toddler, imagine trying to pick up 28 pounds, shake them violently enough that supposedly you’re causing internal brain damage, but their neck is not injured? It’s nonsensical, but it’s the kind of thing that gets momentum and people don’t pause to think about it because the emotions are so intense, especially when you’re talking about the death of a child,” Sween told KLTV.
The prosecution disagreed. First Assistant District Attorney Scott Holden said, “Most of their scientific evidence is not new. Nothing. Not the pneumonia, not the injuries”. Sween did not give up. She argued, “A highly skilled neuropathologist who’s been looking into this very thing to look at the autopsy slides under his microscope. Look at the lung tissue and he saw it, but he said nobody was being trained to even look for this kind of interstitial pneumonia. It wasn’t like you were learning this in medical school, it took new science to be able to recognize this”.
Now, Roberson may be granted another trial, an exoneration, or nothing at all. Sween says Roberson still has faith that he will one day walk out of death row a free man. “If he’s granted a new trial, I’ll be back. I will not let this go,” Sween said, “Roberson credits his faith for helping him stay optimistic after nearly 20 years on death row”.
Penny Lynn Webb from the Palestine Herald provided a history of Roberson’s case.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his scheduled June 21, 2016 execution and sent Roberson’s case back to the trial court level to consider the merits of four distinct claims including a “junk science” claim.
An evidentiary hearing initially began in August 2018 but was placed on continuance Aug. 14, 2018 after District Clerk Teresia Coker found 15-year-old evidence, including Nikki’s lost head CAT scans in the Anderson County Courthouse basement.
After a two and a half year hiatus, the evidentiary hearing was held in March 2021 in a hybrid of Zoom and in-person testimony at the Anderson County Courthouse.
The evidentiary hearing took eight days.
Roberson’s legal team, led by Gretchen Sween, called a total of six witnesses, including three experts, to the stand before resting after six days of testimony.
After hearing from attorneys for Roberson and the State on Monday and considering the totality of the evidence, Evans will make a recommendation. The case will then go back to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for an automatic review and a final determination as to whether Roberson should receive a new trial.
During the March 2021 evidentiary hearing, Roberson’s defense made four claims, including his actual innocence of causing the death of his two-year-old daughter, Nikki. His defense also presented new evidence calling into question the “integrity of his conviction.” If any of the four claims presented are accepted by the courts, Roberson will be entitled to a new trial.
The judge then has 15 days to write a Findings of Facts and conclusions of law and submit them back to the Court of Criminal Appeals. The CCA will review these findings and conclusions, which could take over a year, before a decision is rendered by the highest appeals court in Texas.
Roberson has long maintained he does not understand what happened to his daughter and he had no intent to harm her, or cause her death.
Ron Keine, a death row exoneree who works with the national advocacy organization, Witness to Innocence, will be in attendance and will provide a statement of support for Roberson on behalf of the organization after the hearing concludes.
Witness to Innocence is the only national organization in the United States composed of and led by exonerated death row survivors and their family members. The mission of WTI is to abolish the death penalty by empowering exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones to become effective leaders in the abolition movement.
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