Case overview

Robert Roberson was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2003 for allegedly causing the death of Nikki Curtis, his two-year-old daughter. He has always maintained his innocence of any intent to harm his daughter, let alone cause her death. Nikki was named by her biological mother; the mother, then a prostitute and drug addict living on the streets, named the baby after her then-current boyfriend “Nick Curtis.” The mother was required to relinquish custody from her hospital bed soon after giving birth because of previous CPS involvements that had resulted in her losing custody of Nikki’s two older half-siblings. Robert, who had a brief relationship with the mother, did not meet Nikki for over a year after her birth.

Despite the absence of any evidence of external bleeding or any internal injuries to the neck or skull, at trial the State theorized that Nikki’s internal brain damage had been intentionally inflicted by a combination of violent shaking and blunt force trauma to the head; that is, the State relied on the hypothesis known as “Shaken Baby Syndrome” (aka “Shaken Impact Syndrome”) to explain her death. The State also sought a conviction under an alternative theory, arguing that Robert had been motivated to kill Nikki after sexually assaulting her, a highly prejudicial hypothesis that was so baseless even the State’s forensic experts resisted endorsing it during the trial. That inflammatory and false charge was only dropped at the close of evidence when the case was submitted to the jury to decide Robert’s guilt. But even then, the State argued that, even though there was no physical evidence to support the allegations, Robert may still have sexually assaulted Nikki and thus should be found guilty of capital murder.

No one witnessed the events in the hours before Robert brought his child to the emergency room in Palestine, Texas on January 31, 2002. When he woke up that morning, he had found her unconscious and unresponsive. At the hospital, severe internal bleeding was ultimately discovered. After being driven to Dallas for further treatment, she was later taken off of life support and died. Robert freely agreed to talk to both hospital personnel and police at the time. But his statements were dismissed as insufficient to explain the severity of his daughter’s internal bleeding. Foul play was assumed. He was identified as the only suspect in an unobserved “crime” and promptly arrested. The tragic death of a young toddler was seen as something that had to have been caused by an intentional, and thus heinous, act.

Although Robert denied shaking his daughter except after he found her unconscious and tried to wake her up, before trial, his lawyers did not consult any medical experts of their own. Instead, they conceded at trial that this was “unfortunately” a Shaken Baby case. Over their client’s objections, they did no more than argue that Robert had not had the requisite intent to commit capital murder because of his own brain damage and neurocognitive impairments. Robert repeatedly refused to accept a plea offer of life in prison. But he was quickly convicted in a trial in which he was provided no meaningful defense.

Justice for Robert Roberson ©2020

%d bloggers like this: