2001: Larry Keith Robison

(Thanks to Kristin Houlé of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for the guest post, adapted from her Mental Illness and the Death Penalty Resource Guide (pdf link). Kristin blogs at Prevention Not Punishment. -ed.)

A mentally ill man who had been refused treatment because his condition had not yet turned him violent suffered lethal injection in Texas eight years ago today for finally turning violent.

Larry Robison was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 21, three years before the murders for which he was sentenced to die. He began hearing voices and acting strangely as a teenager, claiming to have secret paranormal mental powers and the ability to read people’s minds and move objects from a distance. He joined the Army but was discharged after only a year.

Robison’s parents sought help and warned mental health authorities of their son’s erratic and increasingly aggressive behavior, but were told that the state could offer no resources unless he turned violent. He was shuffled in and out of mental hospitals, admitted after aggressive behavior and released after a period of medicated passivity. He received no regular, ongoing treatment. Robison was not covered by his parents’ insurance, nor did he have his own.

Robison claimed that voices in his head, which came through the clocks in his room, spewed out warnings about Old Testament prophecies of the Apocalypse and told him to murder, behead, and mutilate his roommate, Bruce Gardner. Robison then went next door and murdered four of his neighbors. When authorities arrested him, he told them that he had committed the murders in order to “find God.”

The four prosecutors developing the case against Larry Robison recognized his past history of mental illness and were willing to accept an insanity plea in exchange for life in a mental institution. The Tarrant County district attorney overruled them, however, and ordered them to seek a death sentence. In the courtroom, most evidence of Robison’s mental illness was ruled inadmissible, so the jury heard little of it. None of the three doctors who had diagnosed Robison before the crime as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia were called to testify at his trial. The jury rejected his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Once in prison, evidence of Robison’s mental illness continued to accumulate. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution at one point, doubtful as to whether or not he was competent to be executed. When asked what the execution would be like, Robison replied that he felt like “a little kid at Christmas time waiting for Santa Claus to come.” Eventually, he demanded that his lawyers cease filing appeals based on his mental illness, but only if the state agreed to execute him on the night of a full moon. Despite protests from mental health organizations and concerned citizens throughout the world, the state complied.

Larry Robison’s case drew attention largely as a result of the tireless efforts of his own family, taking a public profile unusual for the family of the condemned. CBS News’ 48 Hours profiled the Robisons shortly before Larry’s execution. They continue to maintain a website, larryrobison.org; mother Lois Robison remains a vocal critic of executing the mentally ill, and delivered this address to a Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights conference last fall.

On this day..

15 thoughts on “2001: Larry Keith Robison

  1. I was 17 back in 1980. I met Larry at grapevine lake at a party. He was about 5 years older than me. I let him drive my car and we got pulled over for dwi. I was arrested for underage drinking and public intoxication. 3 weeks later he remembered my phone number and called me. I went on a date with him and he talked about weird things. Scared me. He took me home and I never went back out with him. But he continued to call. Not too long before he did the murders he called and wanted me to go to a Halloween party I said no and next time I saw him was on the news. Scary how you never know who you are dealing with. That was so long ago and to think it could have been me.

  2. It’s been almost 19 years but I still think of you. You taught me to understand your illness, so I could show compassion for others. You gave me an ear to listen, advice on life,and let me rant about how unfair it was that we were going to loose you. Somehow you made me feel like it was going to be ok but it still hurt and left a hole. You were a friend,and a teacher. I know what you did was horrible and I feel for the family of those you took. I also know that people will be hateful without knowing you. You will always be part of my heart and missed though because you were a friend and you mattered.

  3. Initially, I was going to say “This post implies that the state of Texas agreed with the condemned man’s request to be put to death on the night of a full moon. Such agreement would imply a level of official loopiness bizarre even for Texas. In reality, the moon was in its last quarter on 21 January 2001. https://stardate.org/nightsky/moon

    Then I found that Larry Keith Robison had actually been put to death on 21 January 2000, which actually was a full moon. It seems that I have been naive in my expectations of official weirdness. http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/US/robison607.htm

    I realize that this is very much a peripheral issue. The important point is that the state killed a man who was obviously mentally incompetent, by virtually any imaginable standard. Still, it’s important to get all the facts straight.

  4. Interesting. The guy was severely mentally ill and his family was unable to get him help, yet still half the commentators relish the thought of his being executed.

    I guess the question is who is the more severely mentally ill.

  5. One of the neighbors was my best friend Scott. He was 11, 2 days from his 12th birthday. He was killed because Larry said he didn’t want to leave a witness!! If he was insane at the time, why would he care if there was a witness???? He knew what he was doing enough to change the plates on the car he stole from Bruce after he killed him. He knew enough to say later that when he got pulled over in Wichita, Ks, he thought about killing the cop but knew they would never leave him alone if he killed a cop!! POS deserved what he got!

  6. Actually, based on some other info online, the initial victim/roommate was Ricky Lee Bryant. Bruce Gardner was one of the four neighbors that were subsequently murdered.

  7. Really? Lock him in his room? He’s psychotic…you think the voices won’t tell him to break out? He was mentally ill…his parents tried to get him help, he was diagnosed by ACTUAL doctors and the mental health organizations did nothing but let this happen. They hold some responsibility in these deaths. I’m not saying he’s not responsible, but he IS mentally ill! The victims were let down by the mental health organizations as was he and his family…

  8. to Josh:
    take your hate some place else. You haven’t a clue. don’t talk about something you don’t know anything about.

  9. I to have a step daughter that is seriously mentally ill. She will turn violent, she has no remorse for any crimes that she commits. She is currently in juvenile detention for the fourth time, and is expected to be released August 31, 2012. I sleep with deadbolts on my door and she has told everyone who will listen that she wants me dead. She has been in psychiatric care for over 10 years, and it is true if they are not a threat to themselves or anyone, they will do nothing. It is only after they do something terrible, like this guy did that everyone wonders what could have been done.
    I have worked in the healthcare industry, direct patient care for over 20 years, and it is a vicious cycle. They get admitted take their meds as ordered and then get turned loose and go off their meds again. We have NOTHING in this country to help the mentally ill. One of these days you or your loved ones may just be a victim of someone who desperately needed help and could not get it. Think about it.

  10. His mother’s excuse, “I don’t feel responsible for this and I have already said sorry to the victim’s family, we have already tried everything to get help for my son. But they (mental hospitals) failed to help him.”

    Well, bitch, last resort, lock your son in the room and never allow him to get out! If your son is not responsible for his behaviors, he sould be considered as a young child which needs to be monitored by YOU at all time! Okay?!

  11. —“Justice was served when this scum died. TOO bad it took so many years. Read what he did to his victims and the reason he said he did it. Not mentally ill, just plain sick…………. Sick-o people that defended him in any way.”—

    yea! lets just deny the existence of mental illness, not treat or hospitalize any of these so-called schizophrenics (WHICH WOULD PREVENT THINGS LIKE THIS FROM HAPPENING IN THE FIRST PLACE). We can just put them to death afterwards. Never mind the grieving relatives of the victims, executing people makes us feel better!

    this guy was completely schizo, this is a quote from his mother:

    “Larry came home one time and said his roommates were plotting against him, they were trying to kill him, all kinds of strange things. One time he called and said he knew what was wrong with him. He said he had been flying out of his body over the streets, singing the song of his life, and he wanted to know if it had been on TV” ??!

    All through his life his family tried to get him help, alerted the authorities that something was seriously wrong, but nothing was done. As a child when he first received psychiatric treatment his parents were told they were being too strict, and should let him go out on his own more. In his early 20’s he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia ‘the worst case they had seen’, yet all they could do was put him in hospital for 30 days then discharge him. Then when he kills 5 people the courts ignore all evidence about the failings of the mental health system, accuse his mother of lying and put him on death row, as if that’s the remedy.

    I’m not even saying he shouldn’t be executed, he is guilty It’s just that they don’t seem to be concerned about preventing things like this from happening? they just want to punish the person afterwards.

  12. Regardless of mental condition….if you murder ANYONE, you should be put to death. Self-defense is not murder.

  13. Justice was served when this scum died. TOO bad it took so many years. Read what he did to his victims and the reason he said he did it. Not mentally ill, just plain sick…………. Sick-o people that defended him in any way.

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