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Erie box-cutter attack suspect has history of mental illness
Erie Times-News - 7/7/2018
The 30-year-old man accused of cutting a young woman's throat with a box cutter on Tuesday has a history of severe mental illness that stretches back to when he was 14 years old.
The bizarre and sometimes violent behavior of the defendant, Steveland E. Robinson, brought him into contact with the criminal justice system repeatedly over the past decade, including two cases in which he was initially found incompetent to stand trial.
Robinson has undergone "innumerable hospitalizations" for mental-health issues, according to a 2016 psychological evaluation included with court filings in his previous cases.
He has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and has experienced hallucinations, paranoid thinking and "a host of temporary symptoms of psychosis," the evaluation states. His medication compliance was reported as 50 percent, "which leaves him vulnerable to his psychotic symptoms and diversions from reality," according to the evaluation.
Erie police now charge that Robinson approached a 21-year-old woman in the parking lot outside the Walgreens store at 3727 Peach St. and demanded money at about 7 p.m. on Tuesday. When the woman declined, police said, Robinson cut her throat with a box cutter.
The victim was taken to UPMC Hamot for surgery. Erie Police Chief Dan Spizarny said Thursday that the victim, a student at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, is in stable condition at UPMC Hamot but remains in the intensive care unit. LECOM spokesman Pierre Bellicini said he is aware of the incident but declined to comment further.
Witnesses observed Robinson panhandling near the front entrance of the Walgreens and saw Robinson standing over the victim while she screamed for help, according to the criminal complaint.
Robinson is now in the Erie County Prison on $50,000 bond, where he awaits prosecution on charges of aggravated assault, possession of the instrument of a crime, simple assault, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct.
He has faced similar charges in the past.
In December 2015, Erie police charged Robinson with aggravated assault, terroristic threats and disorderly conduct for choking a nurse at Saint Vincent Hospital, shouting obscenities and threatening "to shoot random people in the face including a police officer," according to the criminal complaint.
In that case, Robinson's lawyer asked for a psychiatric evaluation to determine Robinson's competency and his mental state at the time of the offense.
"It is clear to counsel that Mr. Robinson has an extremely serious mental health issue and that this was likely directly related to the instant charges," the lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Maria Goellner, wrote in her motion. "On some occasions, Mr. Robinson has been entirely non-verbal. On other occasions, Mr. Robinson believes delusions and/or hears voices."
Goellner wrote that she had represented Robinson multiple times at involuntary civil commitment proceedings in the past two years.
A psychological evaluation conducted at the Erie County Prison concluded that Robinson was incompetent to stand trial. The evaluation reported Robinson's responses to questions were "frequently deluded," and that Robinson at one point said, "I don't know if my mind is playing tricks on me or if aliens exist."
His IQ previously tested at 61, which puts his intellectual functioning in the bottom 2 percent of the population, according to the Intellectual Disability Rights Service.
Erie County Judge Danel Brabender found Robinson incompetent to stand trial in the choking case in March 2016 and ordered him committed to Torrance State Hospital, a state psychiatric hospital in between Pittsburgh and Johnstown, so that his competency could be restored. In his order, Brabender also authorized staff at Torrance to administer Robinson's medications involuntarily if necessary.
Robinson's competency was believed to have been restored during his stay at Torrance, Goellner said during a later court proceeding. Robinson ultimately pleaded guilty but mentally ill to a reduced charge of harassment in the case.
Brabender sentenced Robinson to six to 12 months in the Erie County Prison on the charge. Robinson received credit for time served, which included more time than the maximum sentence of one year on the harassment charge.
Robinson went through a similar process between 2011 and 2012.
After he was charged with stealing cash from a North Park Row restaurant and, separately, trespassing at a UPMC Hamot building, Assistant Public Defender Nicole Sloane asked for a psychiatric evaluation for Robinson.
She wrote in an October 2011 motion that she'd received reports of Robinson's continued mental-health symptoms.
"Defendant did 'great' while living at a half-way house but when he returned home, he would 'cheek' the medication and discard the pills in the yard or toilet," she reported. "Defendant is known to 'wander' and will enter a home and take baths in the homes of strangers."
In February 2012, then-Erie County Judge Ernest J. DiSantis Jr. found Robinson incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to Torrance for three months of treatment. DiSantis extended Robinson's stay at Torrance by another three months at Sloane's request.
In July 2012, DiSantis found Robinson competent to stand trial.
Robinson pleaded guilty to theft by unlawful taking and two counts of criminal trespass in the two cases. He received six to 23 months in the Erie County Prison followed by five years of probation in December 2012.
The court records available in that case do not indicate why Robinson was ultimately deemed competent to stand trial. In his order, DiSantis referred to "the reasons set forth on the record at the competency hearing."
Robinson also received three to 12 months in prison in 2009, after he pleaded guilty to stealing $20 from a man in the 1600 block of Liberty Street. And he spent one year incarcerated at the Edmund L. Thomas Juvenile Detention Center after he was arrested at age 16 for breaking and entering, according to his psychological evaluation.
His competency was not evaluated during the 2009 criminal case, court records show. Nor was it evaluated during a 2011 case in which Robinson was accused of exposing himself in an Erie jewelry store, court records show. Robinson pleaded guilty to a count of open lewdness and received one year of probation, according to the records.
Most recently, Robinson pleaded guilty in January to exposing himself to a person at Bayview Park, in the 500 block of West Second Street, on Sept. 25. His competency also was not evaluated as part of that case, and he received four to 12 months in prison for the misdemeanor.
He was paroled in February, court records show.
Madeleine O'Neill can be reached at 870-1728 or by email. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNoneill.