While out on parole, in late 1998, Robert left the county where he was supposed to reside to follow a lead about a construction job in Fort Worth. There he met a young woman named Michelle Bowman, and they bonded over the fact that they both called Palestine, Texas home. That brief encounter ended when Robert was sent back to prison for the parole violation of leaving the county without permission. Meanwhile, it turned out that Michelle was pregnant. Michelle named the baby girl “Nikki Curtis,” after her boyfriend of the moment. But Michelle told CPS workers at the hospital that the biological father was a man named Robert Roberson.
While in prison, Robert learned that he had a new daughter and that she had been taken in by Larry and Verna Bowman, Michelle’s father and step-mother. Michelle had run away from the Bowmans’ home as a teenager. And at 22, she had just had her third child. Robert, knowing about Michelle’s troubles and hearing about problems with Nikki’s health, wrote to a CPS worker to express his interest in helping to raise Nikki along with his mother.
When Robert returned home from prison at the end of 2000, he got a job and started to have Saturday visits, every other week, with his daughter at his parents’ house. But he continued to struggle with self-doubt. In a note written to one of his brothers and his girlfriend, Robert referred to himself as “Mr. Jerk” and said that he was thinking of killing himself.
Ten months later, Robert would lose his daughter Nikki—soon after the Bowmans finally decided to end the custody battle by agreeing that Robert should have custody.
When Robert was awarded custody of Nikki in November 2001, he was hardly perfect. He was an inexperienced, cognitively impaired father, struggling to recover from drug addiction and trying to support his new family by working two paper routes. The days before Nikki’s death were frantic ones spent carrying a very ill Nikki to and from doctors, picking up prescriptions, taking directions from two sets of grandmothers, and making arrangements for his girlfriend, who was in the hospital for a hysterectomy. But he was as shocked as anyone would have been when he woke up the morning of January 31, 2002 to find Nikki unconscious and unresponsive. He took her to the hospital. Nikki was taken off life support on February 1, 2002.
In the hospital, Robert was swiftly judged for “not showing enough emotion” and “not making sense”—and that was just the beginning of a nightmare compounding the tragic loss of his own child. As he sat in jail—arrested before the autopsy was even performed—he watched as his girlfriend, terrified by threats that she might have her own daughter taken from her by CPS, kept changing her story to accommodate the prosecutors who lacked any meaningful evidence that Robert was a violent child abuser. At trial, he was represented by lawyers who did not listen to him. The lawyers conceded the prosecution’s “Shaken Baby” hypothesis during Opening Statement without having done their own investigation.
Robert was ultimately convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death on February 14, 2003.
Justice for Robert Roberson ©2020