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Ken and Lois Robison. Pho to by Alic ia Dan ie l to realize how capricious the whole setup is from the word ‘go.’ Look at the Brooks case one gets death and the other is on the streets. In Larry’s case, the DA refused to plea bargain for two life sentences. He went for blood. The DA has so much discretion. How do they decide? It’s purely political. If it’s a sensational case, if the public wants it, the DA will go for it.” This is not an easy crusade for Ken and Lois Robison to undertake. They are not outgoing people. They would obviously rather have been left alone to live quiet lives in Burleson. But all that changed when their son was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a housemate in an incident in which five people were killed in two cabins on Lake Worth in August 1982. On January 5, while waiting with other death-row families in Huntsville to visit relatives facing capital punish, ment, the Robisons organized HOPE Help Our Prisoners Exist, to provide emotional support for families of deathrow prisoners, to maintain communication between inmates and their families, and to educate the public about the death nenalty. “When the state kills, it condones killing,” said Lois Robison. “If we’re going to say it’s wrong to kill, then we shouldn’t kill anybody. The state is sending out a message that vengeance and retaliation are justified.” She pulls a letter out of her purse to read, pausing between sentences to control her emotions. The letter is from an Oklahoma woman, who wrote the Robisons, saying, “My son David was murdered on February 14, 1983. But I still do not believe in killing one who has killed. I believe it’s wrong for both the one who took a life and for the state to kill.” “What most of those guys did was under the influence of passion, drugs, alcohol abuse, mental illness capital punishment won’t deter them.” Kenneth Robison sentence with the possibility of parole with no guarantees of rehabilitation; and the death penalty. If the penalty of life without parole had been available, she believes, the jury would have chosen it for Larry, who had no previous criminal record yet was regarded by the jury as a continuing threat to society. The Robisons are working for the abolition of the death penalty to be replaced with life without parole; until the death penalty is abolished, however, they see life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty. “I would think it would be a great relief to all of them [the governor, the juries, the district attorneys, the Board of Pardons and Paroles] not to have to make these decisions,” said Ken Robison. There are a number of reasons the Robisons oppose the death penalty. There is the matter of deterrence. “Capital punishment did not deter them [those on death row],” Ken Robison said. “It will not deter anybody else. What most of those guys did was under the influence of passion, drugs, alcohol abuse, mental illness -capital punishment won’t deter them.” There is the fact that a disproportionate number of people sentenced to capital garnishment could not afford private Ilgal counsel.. Larry Robison was represented by a public defender. “We thought,” said Ken Robison, “we don’t need a Racehorse Haynes. What we wanted was to tell the truth.” But, he said, the defense was no match for a district attorney who used terms such as “personality disorder” instead of “paranoid schizophrenic” as a way of describing their son’s condition. In fact, the inequities of a number of social systems were exposed in the capital murder trial of Larry Robison. Chief among those was the failure of mental health care. Larry Robison had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic a dozen times before the trial. He had been hospitalized for mental illness three times before the murders. The Robisons could not afford the $200 per day costs for private hospitalization of their son and asked that he be civilly committed to the state hospital for longterm care. Because Larry had never before exhibited violent tendencies, the state rejected their request. In addition, the Robisons, with great difficulty, talk about the role sexual abuse may have played in the case. After Larry’s trial they learned that an older step-brother had sexually abused Larry for a period of several years during his childhood. As difficult as this fact is for them to face, and the fact that it took place in what they considered to be a normal, middle-class home the Robisons feel that the role played by early sexual abuse in adult mental illness must be examined. Lois Robison believes that the public does not understand what punishment it is to spend life in prison. “If they had to spend 24 hours in a cell, they might realize how hard it is. I don’t think we realize what the loss of freedom, the loss of privacy, the loss of identity does to a person.” She thinks it is punishment enough for a human being. “Even if it’s in isolation, they [death row inmates] want to live. “I can accept the fact that Larry needs to be contained,” she said, “if he did indeed commit this crime. But if they do decide to kill him how can I go through the actions of teaching my thirdgraders about the value of life?” G.R. An issue that the Robisons have embraced is the option of life without parole. They appeared before the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence to Lurge passage by the legislature of this alternative to the death penalty. Lois Robison explained that, in her son’s case, the jury was given three options: treatment for mental illness, which included no guarantees that Larry would not return to society uncured; a life 8 MARCH 23, 1984