Roberson convicted of manslaughter

Published 10:52 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Shawanda Roberson left no doubt whether she stabbed 18-year-old Kelley Lee Holland.

“I am sorry. There is nothing I can do,” Roberson said with tear-filled eyes as she took the stand in her murder trial on Tuesday.

After a two and a half hour deliberation, the jury convicted Roberson, 35, of manslaughter, in the March 2008 stabbing death of Holland. The incident occurred in Shady Lane Trailer Court in Brundidge, where both Roberson and Holland lived.

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Several witnesses called by prosecutors Monday testified to having seen an altercation take place between Holland and Roberson’s children over apparent threats Holland made toward the family’s dog.

Those who testified — Justin English, Brenda McClendon, Sandora Berry and Savannah Starks — all said they witnessed the altercation that allegedly began when Roberson’s oldest son Marcus swung his fist at Holland.

The witnesses then said they saw Holland chase Marcus around the trailer park, Roberson get in her car, drive toward Holland and ultimately hit him with her vehicle.

Afterwards, the witnesses said Holland got up, threw a cinder block in Roberson’s back window and then saw Roberson punch Holland in the chest. Some testified to seeing a knife in her hand.

All were present when Holland returned to McClendon’s yard and died, and all said they never saw Holland attempt to harm Roberson or any of her children during the course of events.

But, defense witnesses testified Tuesday with a different story.

Marcus Roberson, 17, admitted he did punch Holland in his face, after he said Holland threatened to kill his dog and his sister.

But Marcus told the jury, unlike the previous witnesses, that when Holland gave chase, he followed with a brick that he threw toward him but missed, injuring his younger sister Shaqueda.

Marcus said he did not see his mom hit Holland with her vehicle, but he did see him throw a brick in the car and began to physically fight with his mother. Marcus also said he did not see his mom with a knife, but when cross-examined by Pike County District Attorney Gary McAliley, Marcus admitted he recognized the knife because it was his “family’s knife.”

Roberson’s 13-year-old son Justin Stroud also took the stand, giving testimony similar to his brother’s. But, Stroud, said he saw his mom hit Holland and did not know there was a knife in her hand.

When showed the weapon by Pike County Assistant District Attorney Tom Anderson, Stroud said he recognized it but did not know where he had seen it.

In the final of the defense witnesses, Roberson took the stand herself, telling a version of the story that differed from her children’s.

Roberson said she was in her house when the altercation between Marcus and Holland began, and when she came outside she saw Holland chasing after her son.

Roberson told the jury that she got in her vehicle to go get her son, and said she did not say she was going to run over Holland.

“All I saw was (Holland) chasing (Marcus) with a brick,” Roberson said. “I was pregnant at the time, and I knew I couldn’t catch up with him.”

But Roberson, who has remained in the Pike County Jail since her arrest in March 2008, was caught, as Judge Thomas Head said, “perjuring herself.”

“She has not been pregnant, and it was determined she was not pregnant,” Head said to attorneys outside of the jury’s presence.

Roberson told the court before, though, that she stabbed Holland in an attempt to save herself, her children and the child she was carrying.

“He started throwing blows at me, and we started fighting. I was scared of him, and at the time I was pregnant,” Roberson said. “He started hitting me in my stomach and my chest. I had to get him off of me. I was scared for my life and the baby I was carrying.”

When questioned on having pregnancy tests, she said jailers in the Pike County Jail did not take her for an examination but conducted a urine test. She also testified to having a miscarriage.

Jail Administrator Olivia Pearson said Roberson did not mention a possible pregnancy until two months after being in the jail.

“I got a urine test from her to see if she was pregnant,” Pearson said.

Pearson said she took the sample to a local doctor’s office and then later took Roberson to the doctor for an examination, both times determining there was no child.

The prosecution also questioned Roberson and her children who reported being injured in court but never told officers at the time.

“I didn’t know to show (bruises) to him,” Roberson said.

Another part of Roberson’s story was different from any other witness — where she got the knife.

Roberson said she told her niece, Kristina, to run into the house and bring a knife, as she was fighting with Holland. No one else testified to seeing Kristina go back inside, including Roberson’s children.

“I know it might be different, but it’s the truth,” Roberson said. “What reason do I have to lie?”

In closing statements, Anderson and McAliley both charged the jury to return a guilty verdict for murder.

“Was she defending herself? Heck no, people,” Anderson said. “She just killed this man for no good cause, something about a dog.”

But, for Roberson’s attorney Brandon Coots, everything wasn’t so “black and white.”

“We have to take everything into consideration and look at the whole set of circumstances,” Coots said. “There were a lot of discrepancies in the testimonies. They didn’t all say the same thing. They were all different versions of the same story.

“The four greatest witnesses ever, saw the same thing and reported it different. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John saw the same thing and told it different in their own way.”

Coots asked the jury to consider the testimony of his client and consider what she may have been thinking at the time. He also asked the jury to consider that Holland’s toxicology report showed he had marijuana in his system that day.

“Could that have been a factor?” He questioned. “It’s not for me to decide. Everything’s not black and white.”

McAliley rebutted one final time.

“Everything’s not black and white. Everything in life we do, we have to look at a lot of factors,” McAliley said. “Mr. Coots said Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all had different versions, and they did because people see things different.

“This is Justin English, Brenda McClendon, Santora Berry and Savannah Starks, who were the fact witnesses in this case.”

But, after the manslaughter conviction was returned, McAliley said he was pleased with the outcome.

“I feel justice was done. I tried to get this case to settle for that exact verdict,” McAliley said. “The victim’s family was hurt, but I agree with the jury’s verdict.”

A manslaughter charge is a Class B felony, punishable from two to 20 years in prison. Roberson awaits sentencing, and she will remain in the custody of the Pike County Sheriff’s Department until her sentencing date.