A 48-year-old man on death row for stabbing an elderly Baton Rouge couple to death a quarter-century ago is not intellectually disabled, two psychologists testified Monday at a state court hearing that began in 2013 and is expected to finally end this week.
Allen “Lil Boo” Robertson Jr.’s life literally hangs in the balance because the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 2002 that inmates found to be intellectually disabled, formerly called mentally retarded, cannot be executed.
Donald Hoppe, who testified Monday as a prosecution expert, and fellow psychologist Curtis Vincent, a court-appointed expert whose testimony started in April 2014 and concluded Monday, both stated they did not find Robertson, of Baton Rouge, to be disabled intellectually.
Mark Cunningham, a third psychologist hired by the defense, testified in late 2013 that he believes Robertson is mildly intellectually disabled. He was in the courtroom Monday
State District Judge Mike Erwin, who has seen the Robertson case span the entire length of his 25-year tenure on the 19th Judicial District Court, will have to decide whether Robertson is intellectually disabled as claimed by his attorneys with the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana.
Erwin’s ruling, however, is expected to be appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court and then to the federal courts. A ruling in Robertson’s favor would not free him but would spare him from execution.
Robertson was condemned to die for killing Morris Prestenback, 76, and his 71-year-old wife, Kazuko Prestenback, while burglarizing their Dalton Street home a second time on New Year’s Day 1991. He was 23 at the time.
The case has been prolonged by, among other things, changes in Robertson’s attorneys and unsuccessful defense attempts to disqualify the lead prosecutor, Prem Burns, and Erwin from the case.
The judge let Robertson’s 1995 conviction and death sentence stand in 2008 while also rejecting his request for an evidentiary hearing on his claim of intellectual disability. The state’s top court later ordered Erwin to hold a hearing.
Burns, a retired East Baton Rouge Parish assistant district attorney now acting in the Robertson case as special counsel, noted Monday that Robertson’s mother lived on the same street as the Prestenbacks.
Vincent testified Robertson, who was expelled in the eighth grade, was considered a slow learner but never failed a grade. He worked at St. Vincent de Paul and worked as a baby sitter for two families.
“He doesn’t qualify for the diagnosis” of intellectually disabled, Vincent said.
Previous testimony revealed Robertson used alcohol and drugs since the age of 12.
Hoppe said Robertson was not enrolled in any special education classes, and there is no indication of intellectual disability in his school records.
“I did not see that he met the criteria” for a diagnosis of intellectual disability, he testified. “The data is not supportive of that.”
Hoppe said it was reported by those who knew Robertson that his behavior changed for the worse when he used alcohol and drugs. Burns argued at Robertson’s trial that he killed the couple while burglarizing their home for money to buy drugs.
Hoppe’s testimony will resume Tuesday.