Tag Archives: day care

Melissa Smith Acquitted of Aggravated Manslaughter

  • Melissa Smith ran a day care where a child died in a kiddie pool last year
  • She was acquitted of the most serious charges
Melissa Smith Mug Shot

Melissa Smith Mug Shot

The jury found Melissa Smith guilty of one count of child neglect and three counts of culpable negligence this afternoon. She could’ve received 45 years in prison as originally charged, with Aggravated Manslaughter being the most serious charge. She still faces up to five years when she is sentenced July 3. The trial featured tearful testimony from both the victim’s mother and Ms. Smith, in an undoubtedly tragic case.

Robert Dunn – Penalty Phase

Crimcourts hasn’t been able to observe any of the penalty phase so far, but the News-Press has had especially good coverage of this portion of the trial.  The Defense is making an extensive presentation of the history of mental health problems.  Some of the noteworthy testimony include that he got fired from his pool cleaning job for seeing an imaginary man, and that he was known as “Crazy Bobby”.  His mental health disorders and stressors on his mental state are mitigating circumstances the jury can consider as they determine whether a death sentence will be recommended.  The Defense has a lot to overcome, as the facts of the murder are shocking, and the victim sympathetic.  The State ahs presented testimony from her family regarding the impact on their lives.  The expectation at the courthouse is that the penalty phase will likely resolve this week.



Robert Dunn found competent to stand trial – 11/26

Robert Dunn has been found competent to stand trial in his ongoing murder trial today.  Judge Margaret Steinbeck had appointed two mental health experts to evaluate him, and both experts testified today that they believed that he was competent.

The trial then returned to its previous state where Mr. Dunn had requested to change his plea.  Judge Steinbeck asked him where he stood on that request, and Mr. Dunn indicated that he changed his mind, and no longer wished to plead guilty at this time.  He did indicate he wants to represent himself at the penalty phase.  The judge said that issue would be discussed after the guilt phase, if that is necessary.  Closing arguments are slated to begin this afternoon.  Barring some unusual circumstance, they jury should receive the case by late this afternoon.

Thanks again to the News-Press for mentioning Crimcourts in their coverage! http://www.news-press.com/article/20121126/CRIME/311260013/Competency-hearing-determine-day-care-shooting-trial-s-course

Robert Dunn, 11/20: News-press story on competency motion

Alleged Day Care Killer Robert Dunn

Thanks to the News-press.com and Mary Wozniak (@wozisme) for the shout out for Crimcourts in their Robert Dunn article today.  Yesterday, after Dunn’s attorney’s rested their case, they got in a dispute with him as he decided that he wanted to enter a guilty plea prior to closing arguments.  His attorney’s adamantly disagreed with this strategy, as he would have nothing to gain: he would still be facing a death penalty phase of the trial, whereas there is always the possibility of the jury finding him guilty of a lesser charge, or even not guilty.  He had nothing to lose at this point by letting the jury render a verdict as to the guilt phase of the trial.

After some deliberation with his client, Dunn’s attorney David Brener determined that he had sufficient doubt about whether or not his client remained competent to stand trial.  It is the duty of an attorney to request a review of their client’s competency when such an issue arises, and Brener brought it to the court.  Judge Margaret Steinbeck ordered an evaluation to be conducted.  As I said in the paper, I don’t believe this is trickery on behalf of the Defense team.  Nobody involved in the trial wants to spend the energy and effort exhausted so far to strike it and start over again.  The attorneys have a duty to report such issues to the court and seek an expert evaluation to determine if the client is possible: otherwise the verdict would be for naught, anyway.

This evaluation does not go to the Defendant’s guilt or innocence.  A competency evaluation is for the purposes of determining whether a defendant has the mental capacity to appreciate what is going on, and to participate meaningfully in his defense.  Ms. Wozniak asked if it is unusual for such a motion to be filed at this stage of a trial.  While it is rare that such a motion gets filed right before the case goes to the jury, it is not unusual for the issue to arise at any stage in a criminal proceeding.  The attorneys and the judge are proceeding cautiously to preserve an appropriate record and maintain the validity of the proceedings.  The experts will determine whether Mr. Dunn is sufficiently competent for his trial to proceed at this time.  There have been previous indications of issues concerning Mr. Dunn’s mental health, as I have mentioned previously on Crimcourts, so this motion is not entirely out of the blue.

Also, keep in mind this is different from insanity evaluation.  Doctors will try to determine if the defendant is presently able to stand trial, not whether he was insane at the time of the offense.  Regardless of their finding, this won’t make his charges go away or let him loose.  If he’s found incompetent, he will still face charges at a later time, once his competence is restored. #robertdunn

UPDATE: Just to demonstrate the problem with mental health issues, another Lee County client who was set to being trial this morning also had a competency evaluation ordered. 

Dunn’s case is set for a review next week to see if the trial can proceed.


Robert Dunn trial appears to be a ‘go’ for tomorrow

The clerk hasn’t update the abstract yet, but according to Judge Margaret Steinbeck’s calendar, the Robert Dunn / Cape Coral Day Care Killing trial is slated to start tomorrow morning.  The State is seeking the Death Penalty for pre-meditated, First Degree Murder.  Mr. Dunn allegedly shot his estranged wife in front her class of small children.  The State has charged both pre-meditated murder and felony murder, that is: that the murder occurred in the course of a burglary.  If either of those aggravators are proven, he can be convicted of the capital offense of First Degree Murder, and therefore be subject to the death penalty.

The State has also charged him with Armed Burglary, and Child Abuse, for committing murder with a firearm in proximity to the aforesaid children.  These other offenses are among the aggravators that the State will use to say the death penalty is appropriate.

Day Care Killing case set for trial this week

Alleged Day Care Killer Robert Dunn

According to witnesses, on Jan. 25, 2008, Robert Dunn walked into the day care where his estranged wife worked, and shot her to death in front of the children she cared for.  Louise Zoller wrested the firearm away from him, but not until fatal shots had been fired.  An injunction had been previously entered against Mr. Dunn, prohibiting him from contacting the ex, Bobbie Noonan, or to go to her place of employment.

The state is seeking the death penalty in his first degree murder case, which is set for trial this week.  Trial call is on Monday, which will be a preliminary hearing to see if there’s any reason the trial shouldn’t proceed, probably on Tuesday.  There’s always the possibility of a last-minute continuance, but buzz around the courthouse is that the case should begin on Tuesday with Jury selection, and last at least until next week.

In a fascinating peek into the Defense planning for the case, Mr. Dunn filed a motion to have his attorney removed from the case.  That’s not unusual, but what is unusual is that his motion described his theory of the case.  According to Mr. Dunn, he was unloading the weapon (making it safe) when Ms. Zoller took it and accidentally killed Ms. Noonan.  This is rather far-fetched.  Dunn’s attorney David Brener apparently declined to proceed under this theory of defense, and according to Dunn, admonished him for wanting to go after “the hero.” In spite of Mr. Brener’s wise counsel, Dunn wished to proceed under that theory, and tried to have Brener taken off the case in order to do so.  His request was denied at hearing.

While the motion will not prevent Mr. Brener from proceeding on a more logical defense theory, it will prevent Mr.Dunn from taking the stand and trying to tell a different story, now that he has given his version of events.  He could try to change the story, but he will have zero credibility.  Such are the difficulties of “allegedly” being caught red-handed after committing a crime in front of multiple witnesses.  This may not be a case where Dunn has a shot at getting off, and it may take an exceptional effort by Brener to keep his client out of the electric chair, as the case is strong.  Perhaps a lesser-charge can be obtained, but it certainly looks like premeditated murder when if he obtained a weapon, went to her place of work when he wasn’t allowed to go there, and blew her away.  Mr. Dunn’s iffy mental state will certainly be an issue, if not for guilt, then for mitigation at the death-penalty stage of the case, if it goes that far.

Crimcourts will have updates as the case progresses.  The last couple of times the State has sought the death penalty in the 20th Circuit, they were able to convict the Defendants (Fred Cooper in the Gateway murders, Kemar Johnson in the Cash Fienz murders, and the Justin Grodin baby murder)  of First Degree Murder, but were unable to secure death sentences.  The last death penalty handed down in Lee County was Mark Twilegar in 2007.  #robertdunn