Leslie Robinson has been a frequent visitor to the grave of his son Dionious 'Donnie' Robinson, in Forest Cemetery on Mulberry Street. He said Friday that he is glad that the second man sentenced in his son's killing knows Mr. Robinson made sure he went to prison.
Leslie Robinson was at his son's grave Friday. And as many times before, he was there to talk.
But what made this visit to Forest Cemetery different was the message Mr. Robinson had: "It's over."
More than six years after Dionious "Donnie" Robinson was fatally shot in an altercation that began with a fight over a sandwich, the second man found guilty for involvement in his death was sentenced to prison.
James Phillips, 44, of 318 Miller St., was sentenced on Friday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to three years in prison for complicity to involuntary manslaughter, plus an additional year for a gun specification.
He had entered an Alford plea Dec. 13 and was found guilty of providing the gun used to shoot the 20-year-old victim once in the heart.
"I want to let him know that I did everything that I could," Mr. Robinson said of his visit to the cemetery. " … I feel I've done my part. I'm glad that [Phillips] will be locked up for four years and I'm glad that he'll know that I was the one who made sure it happened."
Elmer Winters was convicted of pulling the trigger in the Aug. 20, 2005, slaying and is in the middle of a 12-year sentence at the Toledo Correctional Institution for that crime. He entered a plea to involuntary manslaughter with a gun specification in December, 2005. He also is to serve four years in prison for a previous aggravated burglary conviction.
Authorities said the incident began about 2 a.m. when Phillips, Winters, and a third person went to a home at 1924 Cone St. where others had gathered. While they were there, a fight broke out over food.
Dionious 'Donnie' Robinson was shot in the heart Aug. 20, 2005, in an altercation that began with a fight over a sandwich.
At some point, Phillips took a gun from Winters and unloaded it, authorities have said.
The victim, who was at the gathering, tried to intervene with Winters, who had targeted one of his friends. At one point, Winters pushed Donnie Robinson off the front porch.
Soon afterward, witnesses saw Phillips cock a gun and hand it to Winters, saying, "It's ready." Winters then fired a single shot.
Police located Winters immediately after the incident and arrested him. After several years and a review of the case, Phillips was charged with complicity.
Mr. Robinson said Friday that he felt "let down" by the justice system when Winters entered a plea in 2005 and he was further disappointed that Phillips hadn't received a longer sentence. He added that he believes Phillips would be free had he not fought on his son's behalf.
Judge Stacy Cook spoke directly to Mr. Robinson during the sentencing to acknowledge his struggle in obtaining justice for his son. She told him that the facts presented to her showed that at one point, Phillips attempted to defuse the situation.
The judge said her sentence was based on the case that the state believed it could have proved and the concerns about testimony anticipated from Winters that may have cast doubt on Phillips' involvement.
"Nobody can ever find a way to accept the death of a child, or come up with a way to feel justice has been done," Judge Cook said. " … This sentence may not be what you feel needs to be done. I only ask that you find some peace in knowing that you have brought justice for your son's pain."
Before he was sentenced, Phillips expressed condolences to the Robinson family but maintained that he was not involved in the death.
In an Alford plea, the defendant maintains his innocence or does not admit he committed a crime, but acknowledges evidence is sufficient for a conviction. The court treats it as a guilty plea.
Attorney Gretchen DeBacker noted in court that Winters would have testified at a trial that Phillips had not handed Winters the gun.
James S. Phillips expressed condolences to the Robinson family at his sentencing but maintained his innocence.
After the sentencing, Ms. DeBacker said, "I agree with what the court said that no sentence will bring back Mr. Robinson's son but, based on what we had before us, it was probably a fair result, if 'fair' can even be used."
Mr. Robinson, who has been chapter leader of the Greater Toledo Parents of Murdered Children, said he will continue to advocate for victims and their families. He said he has considered starting a new organization to help those in his situation, believing that justice had yet to be served.
"I feel that I have done what I can do. I feel [some comfort] in the fact that I never gave up," he said. "If not for me, he wouldn't be serving time. This had been a closed case.
"I'm glad this whole thing is coming to an end."
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.