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Grim Testimony of Child's Slaying Unfolds at Trial

March 17, 1985|PAT BRENNAN | Times Staff Writer

POMONA — Twelve-year-old Steven Frizzell remembers being jealous of little Robyn Jackson.

That was 2 1/2 years ago, Steven said, when 10-year-old Robyn was getting free Popsicles from the ice cream man who peddled treats in their Baldwin Park neighborhood. Robyn was even allowed inside the truck to pick out her favorite flavor--a privilege Steven said was denied the other children.

Today, Steven is alive and Robyn is dead. But Steven recalled his envy earlier this month when he took the stand in Pomona Superior Court to testify in the rape and murder trial of Robert Edward Stansbury, the ice cream man who could end up on Death Row if convicted in Robyn's death.

The case is expected to enter its fourth week of testimony this week. So far, the trial has revolved around the temperature of the child's body shortly after her death and the noise made by a creaky car door.

Stansbury, who is acting as his own chief defense counsel, said in court that he expects another four to six weeks of testimony before a jury begins to deliberate his fate.

Convicted Rapist

The prosecution contends that the 41-year-old convicted rapist used his role as an ice-cream truck driver--a job forbidden by law to sex offenders--to enter the neighborhood without suspicion, where he selected Robyn as his victim and spent weeks winning her confidence.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Burns said in his opening remarks that he will prove Stansbury smuggled the child from her neighborhood on Sept. 28, 1982, raped and beat her, hid her in the truck's ice cream cooler and dumped her body in a Pasadena flood control channel in the early hours of the next morning.

The temperature of Robyn's internal organs had dropped to 70 degrees when it was measured a few hours after her body was found. Burns said that with testimony from experts, he will prove that Stansbury stuffed the child into the ice cream compartment, kept at a temperature of about 40 degrees, while she was still alive. He said the child was living, though barely, when she was dumped in the channel.

"During the last moments of her conscious living," Burns said, "she (Robyn) was, in fact, alone, in the worst sense of the phrase, alone."

Doctor Tells Cause of Death

Dr. Sara Reddy, a medical examiner, testified that Robyn apparently died of the exposure to cold and a blow to her skull when it struck the concrete floor of the drainage ditch.

Despite stern advice against it from Judge James Piatt, who is hearing the case, self-acknowledged "jailhouse lawyer" Stansbury has insisted on acting as his own lead attorney. With the help of lawyer David Daugherty, who was appointed to assist him, the defendant told the jury that he will show that the prosecution's case is based solely on circumstantial evidence.

"Not a single one of those witnesses that the prosecution will provide will even attempt to say that they saw me murder a young child," Stansbury argued in his opening statement, "because they can't."

If Stansbury is wrong, it could cost him his life. If he is found guilty of murder by inflicting great bodily injury with "special circumstances"--that the death occurred during a kidnaping, rape or an act of lewd conduct with a child under age 14--Stansbury could be sentenced to death.

After hearing the prosecutor's opening statement and before Stansbury made his own presentation to the jury, the judge warned the defendant: "If Mr. Burns can prove and presents all that evidence to the jury, you're in big trouble."

The judge added: "I'm not saying that you are incompetent. But, Mr. Stansbury, I really think you should give some very serious thought before you make any presentation to the jury."

Stansbury, dressed in a neat brown suit and showing no trace of the woolly red beard he wore when he was arrested, spoke of his nervousness in his opening statement and said: "It has often been said, an attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client." He also told the jury, "I'm not saying that I can totally prove my innocence."

Attorneys and witnesses in the case have been under a gag order since January, when one was imposed by the judge after a motion by Stansbury. It has prevented information from being revealed to the public until it is brought out in open court.

Witnesses so far have included Robyn's mother, Sharon Sanchez; forensics expert John Mosbrucker, an investigator for the Los Angeles County coroner's office; Reddy, the doctor who examined Robyn's body; a former cellmate of Stansbury; and Andrew Zimmerman, who found her body and reported it to the police.

Mosbrucker and Reddy testified that Robyn had been exposed to very low temperatures and deprived of oxygen before she died--the basis of the prosecution's claim that the girl was placed in the ice cream compartment of Stansbury's truck.

But much of the testimony to date has focused on temperature readings of Robyn's liver, taken about 6:45 on the morning her body was found.

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