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Stansbury Conviction Ends Mother's Long Vigil but the Pain Remains

May 26, 1985|PAT BRENNAN | Times Staff Writer

On the morning after her daughter's killer was convicted, Sharon Sanchez sat with neighbors around the kitchen table and thought aloud about retribution.

Morbid fantasys of inflicting pain seemed to provide Sanchez with momentary relief from the intense pressure of the last three years, but she knew she could never carry them out, even if it were possible to do so.

"I couldn't bring myself to hurt anyone else," she said.

The 33-year-old woman talked last week about how her life had been shattered by the abduction, rape and murder of her 10-year-old daughter, Robin Jackson, in September, 1982. Ice cream vendor Robert Stansbury was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder in Pomona Superior Court where the penalty phase is set to begin May 29.

The killing has affected not only Sanchez' family, but her Baldwin Park neighborhood, her city and its Police Department.

Many parents now walk their children to Geddes Elementary School, where, according to court testimony, the girl was abducted; the Police Department has toughened its policy on missing children, and street vendors are barred from Baldwin Park by City Council ordinance, in part because of the killing.

Sanchez, who has been married twice and who now lives alone with her three children, said she last saw her daughter alive shortly after 6 p.m. on Sept. 28, 1982. She remembers the precise sequence of dates and times surrounding the death as if they were indelibly burned into her memory.

She had served dinner to the girl and given her permission to play at Geddes school until sundown, about 7:30. She did not know then what was later revealed in court, that Stansbury had been giving Robin free treats from his ice cream truck for weeks.

But as the hours passed she grew suspicious.

"In my own mind I knew by 8:30 or 9 that some idiot had her and there was no way she could get to a phone," Sanchez said. "I knew she was kidnaped. From there on it was just waiting and waiting, more questions and more questions."

She first called police, who took her report and suggested that Robin had run away. "That upset me terribly because my child was not that kind of person," Sanchez said.

Filled with apprehension, she gathered her friends around her and they began a door-to-door search of the neighborhood.

"It was constant turmoil," Sanchez recalled. After a fruitless hunt, she spoke to her 13-year-old son, Scott, who said the only likely kidnaper he could think of was the ice cream man who had visited their neighborhood earlier that evening.

The police took her on another door-to-door search at 1:30 a.m., again without success. But Sanchez said she paused during the search when she heard what she thought

was a child calling to her--coincidentally about the same time pathologists say the girl was dropped into a flood control channel in Pasadena.

"Off in the distance I heard a faint cry, like someone falling," she said. "Like someone calling, 'Mommm . . .' I knew I would never see my daughter again."

At 4:30 a.m., Sanchez said, she took a sedative but was able to sleep only about an hour.

At 6:36, a police sergeant came to the door and asked her if she would go with him to the police station. She agreed, and once there, was told that her daughter's body had been found in the channel.

'Tunnel Vision'

"I had that tunnel vision the morning they told me," she remembered. "All you can do is see straight ahead. You can see people moving but you can't tell where they came from. You can see mouths moving but you can't hear voices."

Sanchez said she cried, ran outside into the street and began tearing at her sweater until officers were able to calm her. "I was just shredding my sweater, just ripping it apart."

The next day, Stansbury was arrested and charged with the killing, and an even longer wait began for Sanchez.

Stansbury, who acted as his own attorney with the assistance of a co-counselor, was able to delay the trial for more than a year. When it finally started, the trial lasted about four months.

Sanchez went almost every day. "When I came home from court I would just fall apart," she said.

This week her long wait ended. The jury found Stansbury guilty of all counts lodged against him by Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Burns: Kidnaping, rape, and first-degree murder. The findings mean that the defendant could be sentenced to death.

The jury will begin hearing testimony to help them decide Stansbury's sentence next week. Their choices are death or life imprisonment without parole.

Although Sanchez and her friends unanimously agree that that Stansbury should go to the gas chamber, her son Scott said he would prefer that the killer receive life in prison, "because he'll sit there in that cell by himself and think back to that day and it will drive him crazy."

Don't Understand

Sanchez said her 4-year-old twins, Nick and Nat, do not fully understand what happened to their half sister but the neighbors do and are trying to ensure that it won't happen again.

"People walk their children to school now," said Jean Clancy, who lives near Sanchez. "It's brought everybody together, kids and adults. We started up a Neighborhood Watch group. No stranger walks down our street that we don't know about."

Baldwin Park Police Chief Dave Snowden said that although missing children had always been a top priority in his department, a policy to that effect was written as a result of the killing.

"Nothing is more important than locating and returning to the safe arms of parents a missing child," Snowden said. "We put it in writing so new officers going through the training process will read it. We want that clear in every patrolman's mind."

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