George D. Robinson, a 30 year-old unemployed heroin addict, was convicted of first-degree murder yesterday in the 1976 slaying of University of Maryland student Annette Nee.
Robinson sat expressionless as the jury foreman read the verdict. Nee's father, Nicholas, who conducted a five-year search for clues and offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the killer, bowed his head and squeezed the hand of his surviving child, Jeanette, 22, as he heard the verdict, Jeanette Nee then turned to her mother, and the two wept and hugged each other.
"Hopefully what we have accomplished today will spare another family of the trauma we have been going through," said Nicholas Nee, a translator for the Army who lives in Gaithersburg.
Annette Nee, 19, was studying for midterm examinations in October 1976 when a man pushed his way into her apartment on Oglethorpe Street in Hyattsville and demanded her pocketbook. When she refused to give it to him, the man shoved a gun into her face and shot her to death, according to court testimony.
The jury of nine men and three women deliberated for more than nine hours -- until 3:40 a.m. -- before returning the verdict. Four times during the deliberations, the jury foreman sent notes to Judge Howard Chasanow declaring that the panel could not come to a consensus. "We've been deadlocked 11-to-1 for the past hour and a half," read the second note, which was sent four hours before the verdict was reached. Each time, Judge Chasanow instructed the jury to continue deliberations.
Robinson's mother, who was present each day of the week-long trial, left the courthouse when the jury began deliberating at 6:20 p.m. But the Nees, who also attended the trial each day, kept a constant vigil on a bench next to the courtroom while the jury argued the case.
The identity of the killer was the main subject of dispute during the trial. State's Attorney David Simpson argued that Robinson killed Nee, while defense lawyer Richard Sothoron claimed that the killer was actually Robinson's partner, James Settles, 29, a patient at St. Elizabeths Hospital who testified against Robinson.
Three key witnesses, including Settles, testified for the prosecution that Robinson had told them he killed Nee. But there was little physical evidence linking Robinson to the crime. His fingerprints were not found in Nee's apartment, and the revolver that killed Nee was never discovered. But the bullet that lodged in Annette Nee's neck came from a .38 revolver, a police officer's gun, the same type of gun that Settles testified Robinson had shown him immediately after the slaying.
The scarcity of physical evidence initially caused six members of the jury to vote against conviction, according to one juror who did not want to be identified. "Some people felt that the circumstantial evidence was good, but others felt uncomfortable with it," said the juror.
But by 10:30 p.m., all but one of the jurors had decided that Robinson was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. One of the factors that resulted in their decision, according to jurors, was that Robinson's fingerprints were found on a ceramic box from which a police officer's gun was stolen during a burglary in Washington.
Robinson, who took the stand Friday, denied stealing the gun, although he admitted burglarizing the police officer's apartment with Settle's to get money for their heroin habits. He said his fingerprints were on the gun case because he had opened it, searching for a gun, but did not find one.
Robinson also testified that he did not kill Nee and never had been to her apartment. Settles, however, testified that he drove Robinson to Nee's apartment the morning Nee was killed. Settles said he remained in the car when Robinson went into the building that he heard a shot, and that Robinson emerged and got into his car, announcing that he had "shot a young lady."