Sauk County judge denies Robinson’s request for new homicide trial

November 24, 2018
Jae Robinson appears with his appellate lawyer, Michael Rosenberg of Madison, during a May hearing in Sauk County Circuit Court.

A judge has denied a new trial for a North Freedom man convicted of homicide and battery following a 2015 street fight that turned deadly.

In an Oct. 12 ruling, Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock denied arguments that 31-year-old Jae M. Robinson’s former attorney provided him with ineffective assistance.

Screnock also determined that his own prior rulings — including one that allowed the jury to receive evidence of Robinson’s drunken and belligerent behavior on the night in question — were proper. His 16-page decision said the interest of justice does not warrant a new trial.

“The evidence was relevant and probative of the State’s assertion and theory that Mr. Robinson was looking to fight someone that night, which intent and state of mind culminated in him coordinating with his friends to lie in wait and ambush someone,” Screnock wrote. “That ‘someone’ turned out, tragically, to be (Anthony Inman) and (Anthony J. Peterson).”

Robinson’s current attorney, Michael Rosenberg of Madison, has since filed notice he will take the case to Wisconsin’s 4th District Court of Appeals. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

Robinson was one of four people charged in connection with an October 2015 fight that left Inman, 36, of North Freedom, dead and Peterson, now 35, of Mauston, severely injured. He admitted to taking Inman’s knife from him and using it to stab him repeatedly, but insisted he acted in self-defense.

There was conflicting testimony at trial about the moments leading up to the fight, which occurred near an idle Baraboo intersection. Prosecutors alleged Robinson and his friend lured the two victims and ambushed them from behind a building with blunt force weapons along with another friend who was called in as backup.

The backup’s girlfriend drove all three men from the scene. All four people were captured hours later following a manhunt.

The defense contended that Inman and Peterson were trash talking with Robinson from down the street and ran to the intersection expecting to fight. Inman died at the scene after suffering seven blunt force blows and 26 knife wounds.

Robinson was convicted in early 2017 following a jury trial and later sentenced to life in the correctional system, with the eligibility of parole in 2045. A year later, his appellate attorney moved for a new trial, and Screnock heard testimony on the matter in May.

During the hearing, Robinson’s former attorney said he had no strategic reason to ignore a theory that Peterson — the man who was beaten but survived — started the fight because he had feelings for a woman Robinson hit on that evening.

“Counsel, I just didn’t think about it,” Madison attorney Michael Covey said in response to questions from Robinson’s appellate lawyer. “It was a long trial, and I’m certain I made lots of mistakes.”

Screnock wrote in his decision that Covey already had developed an alternate theory for the fight throughout the trial, and that it was reasonable for him to forego including an additional layer that involved jealousy.

The judge also rejected arguments that he should have excluded — and that Robinson’s former attorney should have objected to — evidence involving Robinson’s belligerent behavior during a night of bar-hopping.

Screnock ruled the evidence was relevant to the state’s theory of what happened on the night in question, and provided needed context for the jury.

Screnock also discarded the contention that Robinson’s former attorney should have objected to comments a prosecutor made at trial.

During closing arguments, she suggested that Robinson’s friend parked his car in a certain location because it allowed them to see who was coming out of the bar. That supported the prosecution’s theory the men planned two ambush two bar patrons they had an altercation with earlier in the evening, and wound up fighting Inman and Peterson by mistake.

In his decision, Screnock conceded the parking location would not have allowed the two men to see the bar’s entrance. But he noted it did allow them to see the area in front of the bar and the cars parked outside.

The jury was aware of the visibility from that location because it had traveled to the scene, Screnock wrote. He ruled the prosecutor’s statements were a reasonable interpretation of the evidence, and were not objectionable.

Robinson was the only defendant to take his case to trial. His three co-defendants all took plea deals and were sentenced to prison.

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