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Tears flowed on both sides of the courtroom Monday afternoon, Dec. 3, as a Lancaster man was sentenced to 45 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to the murder of a man this summer and the attempted murder of a sheriff’s office investigator two months later.
With members of both his and murder victim Donald Morris’ families sitting mere feet away, Keith Tyrone Robinson Jr., 20, listened intently as Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith handed down a long list of concurrent sentences.
They include five years each for two possession of firearm charges, five years for a possession of knife charge, 30 years each for two armed robbery charges, 30 years for the attempted murder charge and 45 years for the murder and two burglary charges.
Goldsmith gave Robinson credit for time already served in jail.
Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield said Robinson must serve every day of his 45-year sentence.
“On a murder charge, it’s a day-for-day sentence. There’s no 15 percent off, no parole, no early release,” Barfield said. “His term starts from the day he was taken into custody and he’s been in jail since he was arrested this summer.”
The armed robbery, firearm and murder charges stem from the June 13 home invasion and June 18 murder of Morris. Five other people were arrested in July in connection with those crimes.
In the June 13 case, Morris, 53, had first been injured when three armed men burst into his home just before midnight, pistol-whipped him in his face and head, ransacked his house and then stole $8,500 in cash, according to police reports.
Barfield said Morris, who owned and operated a produce stand, was targeted because he carried cash.
Five days later, after receiving a tip that Morris might be the target of a second robbery, police returned to Morris’ South York Street home. After knocking on his front door and receiving no response, officers entered through an unlocked door and found Morris shot to death.
“He was shot once in the head,” Barfield told the court Monday. “And his house appeared to be ransacked again.”
During their investigation, authorities learned Robinson was involved.
“The investigation led them (police) to the house where Robinson was found. They (police) found him hiding under the box springs of a bed,” Barfield said. “Also recovered during the search was a firearm, but evidence testing has not been finished.”
Barfield said the remaining charges are related to the attack of Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Fred Thompson on Aug. 8.
The attack happened as Thompson was interviewing Robinson at the Lancaster County Drug Task Force office on Pageland Highway. The task force office is in a “strip mall” between the old Thaxton Insurance complex and the S.C. Highway Department.
Handcuffed and secured with leg shackles and a waist chain, Robinson complained about the shackles being too tight. When Thompson leaned down to check them. That’s when Robinson slashed Thompson in the neck with a hidden razor blade, Barfield said.
“It’s clear at some point Robinson got ahold of a razor. Disposable razors are issued to inmates every Saturday night and then collected and inventoried,” Barfield said. “Obviously there was planning put in that to get ahold of the blade.”
Barfield said Robinson had also asked Thompson a few days earlier who would be attending his questioning.
Despite Thompson’s injuries that day, he was able to subdue Robinson before deputies drove him to Springs Memorial Hospital. He was treated and released that day.
Thompson’s attack came about a week after he was interviewed by The Lancaster News for being named South Carolina's Deputy Sheriff of the Year by the S.C. Sheriff’s Association.
‘Scared to death’
Huddled together in the courtroom were several members of Morris’ family, many of whom addressed the judge before the sentencing.
With tears in her eyes, Morris’ daughter, Holly Morris, recalled the last time she spoke with her father.
“I got to tell my dad I loved him for the last time on Father’s Day,” Holly Morris said. “The day after, I got a call to meet at his house.”
That’s when she learned her father had been shot in his sleep.
“I’ve been scared to death ever since. He took my dad’s life over nothing. My dad was asleep. Why did you have to kill him?” she said.
Holding up a photo of her late husband’s baptism from Aug. 25, 2008, Stephanie Morris said he was always willing to give of what he had.
“He would have given his last dime to these young men who came into his life. He was defenseless. He was asleep. He had no way to know they were in the house. This murder was senseless,” Stephanie Morris said.
Since the murder, she’s been terrified to return to the house.
“A dollar doesn’t mean that much to anyone and it never meant that much to Donny,” she said. “Give him (Robinson) as much time as the law will allow.”
‘Show him mercy’
A few of Robinson’s friends and family also spoke, each asking for a lenient sentence.
Jessica Robinson apologized to Thompson for her brother’s actions, but wanted to clarify what part she believed he played in the Morris murder.
“My brother was not convicted. He said yes he did take part in it, but he was not the triggerman,” she said. “If I could take half his time I would.”
She remembered her brother as a different man than the one portrayed during the case.
“My brother was always happy, not down. I remember when he would get his paycheck from YouthBuild,” she said. “No one in this courtroom knows Keith Robinson the way we do. I love him and pray you show him mercy.”
His brother, Kevin Reed, also disagreed with Robinson’s portrayal as a menace to the community.
“He’s been through a little bit, but a menace from my understanding is someone who goes around torturing people, someone who gets in a lot of trouble. But when we’ve been around he’s always had a big heart and was always good around kids,” Reed said. “Show him mercy. I’ve always seen the good side of him.”
‘Love, forgiveness and consequences’
Many more people spoke to the judge, including Thompson, Lancaster Police Chief Harlean Howard, Sheriff Barry Faile and S.C. Law Enforcement Division Special Agent Lee Blackmon.
Blackmon, along with others, urged Goldsmith to enforce the maximum sentence allowed by law.
The agent, who worked a decade for the sheriff’s office as a uniformed deputy and investigator before moving on to SLED, said he’s seen many people in his 19-year career in law enforcement.
“I’ve seen good people do good things and good people do bad things. I’ve seen bad people do bad things. And then there’s violent people who do violent things,” Blackmon said. “I’ve sat across from a lot of suspects and Keith Robinson Jr. is one of the most violent persons I’ve ever talked to.”
“I ask the court to show no mercy when it comes to sentencing,” he said.
Pausing for a few moments as he addressed Goldsmith, Thompson said only three things came to his mind – love, forgiveness and consequences.
“According to my Christian beliefs, I have to love regardless, I have to forgive regardless of the actions, but it’s easier to forgive him than to forgive myself,” Thompson said. “I tried to treat him like a human and in return I’m almost taken from my family.”
He said the attack was so traumatic that he’s only worked three hours since August and isn’t sure when, or if, he will return to his job.
“I can’t even imagine going back and doing it again,” he said. “I can’t sit across from another person like that.”
He asked that Robinson be issued a “severe consequence.”
“I have no compassion for him, but I have to. I have to forgive,” Thompson said.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416