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Agency Defends Capital Murder Convict

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Robin Y. Richardson Marshall News Messenger

A state writ of habeus corpus hearing in the capital murder case of death row inmate Cortne Mareese Robinson began here in the 71st District Courtroom Monday with visiting judge Joe Clayton of Tyler presiding.

Robinson, who was brought last Friday to the Harrison County Jail from the Palaski Unit in Livingston, is being represented by attorneys from the State Office of Capital Writs. The office is state government agency tasked with representing defendants in Texas who have been sentenced to death.

"They represent these individuals in their State Court Writ of Habeas Corpus," explained Rick Hagan, special prosecutor appointed to represent the state. "They represent (defendants) once their appeals have been exhausted."

Hagan explained that a state writ of habeas corpus is a writ filed with the Texas Court of of Criminal Appeals alleging that a defendant's sentence is either void or contrary to law in some respect.

"In this case, Mr. Robinson appealed the verdict and sentence of death in this case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. His appeal was rejected and his conviction was upheld." Thus, the State Office of Capital Writs filed a 240 page application alleging various errors in Robinson's trial that they believe undermine the validity of the court judgment. "These allegations center around the contention that Mr. Robinson's trial attorneys provided ineffective assistance of counsel, not that Mr. Robinson is in fact innocent," said Hagan. "The State denies these allegations."

Hagan said the law provides that the trial court shall take and hear any additional evidence offered in support of the writ and forward to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals its findings of fact and conclusions of law for their review.

"The trial court judge, Judge Clayton, ordered Mr. Robinson's trial attorneys to testify about the allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel raised in the application. Both of Mr. Robinson's trial lawyers, Kevin Settle and Lance Larison, testified today and the hearing is expected to close tomorrow," Hagan said Monday.

He noted that, by law, Judge Clayton cannot make a final ruling on the application and is only authorized to forward his findings on to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin.

Robinson, of Marshall, was convicted in March 2011 for fatally shooting 82-year-old Frank Zabokrtsky during a September 2009 home invasion in which the victim's wife was kidnapped and sexually assaulted.

Robinson, the person responsible for pulling the trigger and even made a rap song about it, was sentenced to death for his actions. He filed an appeal following his conviction; however, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his appeal in June 2013, and affirmed his conviction and sentence of death.

Robinson's co-defendant Bradney Smith, who was found guilty of capital murder in November 2012, is serving an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole; the other co-defendant, Travion Young, who pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of murder, was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The writ hearing for Robinson continues this morning, at 9 a.m., in the 71st District Courtroom.

Updated Monday, June 26, 2023

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