Crime & Courts

In case of Alaska teen who killed dad, self-defense argument takes shape

Jailed on murder charges for shooting and killing his father, William Robinson Jr. turned 17 last month behind bars, where he was locked up alone for 23 hours a day for his own protection.

Robinson's attorney claims he killed his father in self-defense and deserved to be on house arrest while awaiting trial. Prosecutors say the father had not presented an immediate threat, and the teenager might act unpredictably if let out of jail.

Last Friday, two months after the shooting, Robinson bailed out. His attorney had successfully argued to have his bail reduced. Robinson's supporters do not dispute that Robinson killed his father, 57-year-old William Spencer Robinson Sr. on Feb. 26. They say he pulled the trigger to protect himself and his mother from a monster terrorizing them inside the Meadow Lakes home, just outside Wasilla.

State prosecutors say the elder Robinson was unarmed and had not physically harmed anyone that day. Charges filed in court after the slaying tell that version of the story, though attorneys on both sides continue to investigate. According to the charges, here is what happened:

Nicole Robinson, the defendant's mother, called emergency dispatchers to report the shooting about 3 a.m. She later told investigators that she and her husband, William Sr., had been fighting. William Sr. woke up angry, thinking she had taken his medication, she said.

Nicole said she and her husband had both threatened to shoot the other but neither actually tried to do so. At one point, Nicole went to the bathroom to get ready to leave the home.

William Jr. told investigators he woke up to his parents arguing. They fought often, he said, but this time seemed more intense. William Jr. said his father went outside to disable the family's car, the only escape for his mother. That was when William Jr. said he took a revolver from the living room to his bedroom. His father came back inside, continuing to yell before sitting down. William Jr. told investigators he took the revolver out of its case, told his mother to stay in the bathroom and walked to the living room.

"As his father started to stand up, William Jr. stated he took about two steps forward and fired all six rounds at his father," the charges say.

William Jr. told investigators he fired the gun because he was afraid of what his father might do to him and his mother. He apologized when Nicole asked if he had shot his father. He said it again -- "I'm sorry" -- to the troopers who arrived a short time later to find him with blood staining his clothes. The mother and son had been instructed by dispatchers to try to resuscitate the dying man.

Nicole and William Jr. both told investigators there had not been any physical violence immediately before the shooting, according to the charges. William Jr. told troopers his father had never assaulted him and he'd never seen his father hurt his mother. She told him once, six months before the shooting, that William Sr. had pulled her hair, he said, according to the charges.

"William Jr. stated that his father had not physically assaulted anyone that night, only that he was very angry," the charges say.


William Jr.'s supporters maintain that the shooting was in self-defense. The shy teenager may not have answered the troopers' initial questions accurately, said KeriAnn Brady, a lawyer who set up the legal defense fund for him.

"Every single violent incident happens in a context. The entire context doesn't get revealed in the first or the second interview," Brady said. "Even if someone asks you the right question, you're so traumatized, you're so in shock, you might not give the right answer."

After the interview, the troopers arrested William Jr., who was 16 at the time, and took him to jail in Palmer. He was charged and held as an adult.

Because of his age, corrections officers put William Jr. in a segregation unit to keep him separated from the more hardened criminals in general population, according to a bail memorandum his attorneys filed in court. In the segregation unit, William Jr. and other inmates were held in their cells for 23 hours a day, the bail memo says.

William Jr. turned 17 on April 7. The other inmates sang "Happy Birthday," said his attorney, Marcelle McDannel, with the state Office of Public Advocacy. He earned a General Educational Development diploma while in jail, she said. McDannel's request to reduce William Jr.'s bail -- originally set at $250,000 cash -- went before a judge April 24.

Several people testified on William Jr.'s behalf at the hearing, including a neighbor and a school counselor, McDannel said.

"They all were just very uniform about what a great kid this is. Kind, thoughtful, respectful, never been violent. Shy, just a really good, nice kid," she said. "I've been in criminal law a long time. I've never had a case like this, where it's just someone who's such an innocent thrown into this awful situation by virtue of his parents and his situation in life."

William Jr.'s struggles are tied to his father's past, the attorney said.

According to a 1980 psychological evaluation attached to the bail memorandum, William Sr., who went by Spencer, received treatment for "sexual psychopathy" after committing crimes in Washington state in the late '70s, the evaluation says. He was discharged from treatment, declared "not amenable to treatment and not safe to be at large" and served out the rest of his sentence in prison, according to the evaluation.

William Sr. met Nicole sometime after his release, and they moved to Alaska, the bail memorandum says. William Jr. was born in 1996. The couple abused prescription painkillers and alcohol, and William Sr. grew obese, the memorandum says. The state took custody of William Jr. in 2002, when he was 6 and the family lived in an Anchorage mobile home. His parents were charged with child neglect.

"I observed absolute filth in the residence that lined the hallways, covered the floor, and in huge piles throughout the residence," an Anchorage police officer wrote in his report, also attached to the bail memorandum. "The piles were full of clothes, paper, alcohol bottles and (miscellaneous) items. The carpets were filthy and it appeared that they had never been vacuumed. The kitchen had piles of dirty dishes stacked up in the sink and all over the counters."

Nicole regained custody of her son after serving time in jail and rehab, but William Sr. failed to get off drugs or complete anger management classes and mental health treatment he had been assigned, the memorandum says.

The father's trouble with the law continued.

According to Alaska court records, William Sr. pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in 2007. Because he already had two convictions for drunk driving elsewhere, the drunk-driving charges he faced in Alaska in 2010 and again in 2012 were felonies. He pleaded guilty to both.

In November 2012, William Sr. was sentenced to two years for the most recent drunk-driving conviction, but he asked to delay the date he had to report to jail, according to court records. Had it not been delayed, William Sr. likely would have been behind bars four months later, at the end of February, when his son shot and killed him.

McDannel, the lawyer, described the family's home as "virtually unlivable." She said she looked at pictures of the home when William Jr. was taken away at age 6 and pictures of the murder scene. They looked the same, she said.

Still, even if William Sr. verbally abused his wife and son and was a neglectful parent, the investigation has so far revealed no evidence that he physically hurt any member of his family the day he was shot, said Brittany Dunlop, the prosecutor who argued against the bail reduction. Under Alaska law, a person claiming he killed in self-defense must prove he faced a credible, immediate threat, Dunlop said.

". . . Both the kid and the mom said there hadn't been physical violence, that he hadn't laid a hand on her in 10 years and that he'd never physically lashed out, never hit the kid," Dunlop said. "What (William Jr.'s attorneys) are talking about is, 'Can verbal or emotional abuse rise to the level of self-defense?' And at this point, our position is that it doesn't."

Dunlop argued against reducing William Jr.'s bail. He might present a risk to the community, she said. Dunlop told a judge that the majority of the teen's video games carried ratings for mature audiences or were so-called "first-person shooter" games. The revolver with which William Jr. killed his father was the only gun in the house, except for a pellet gun and a paint-ball gun he kept in his room, Dunlop said. William Sr. had no access to a gun with which to harm his wife or son, she said.

As for William Jr., "it wasn't one shot. It was the full deal," the prosecutor said. "I think the closest neighbor was 40 yards away. I mean, he could've gone for help if there was truly an issue."


At the conclusion of the April bail hearing, a judge agreed to lower William Jr.'s bail to $25,000, payable by bond. He needed $2,500 cash to secure the bond and get out of jail. The judge approved a request to have William Jr.'s movements monitored with an electronic ankle bracelet and allowed him to be supervised by a third-party custodian who lives in Anchorage.

Dunlop disagreed. "A posting of $2,500 for murder in the first degree, shots fired at close range like that at an unarmed victim, I don't see that as ever appropriate," she said.

For William Jr.'s supporters, it was a minor victory in the greater battle for the teenager's freedom, said Brady, manager of the defense fund, which she said is to help William Jr. pay for the ankle monitor.

Without help, William Jr. would have remained locked in segregation, Brady said.

"It seemed so fundamentally unfair to me that he would be incarcerated until there was a trial," Brady said.

"This kid, if anybody along the way, would've realized the way he was living and what was going on with him, he would've been removed from that home. There's no doubt in my mind," she said. "He defended his mother. It's so extreme, and the stakes are so high, my heart goes out to him."

The teen's murder trial is set for November in Palmer Superior Court.

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.


Casey Grove

Casey Grove is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He left the ADN in 2014.