Theodore Robinson(Provided photo)
By Douglass Dowty
Syracuse, NY — A Syracuse man who was convicted after trial of robbing a woman of jewelry at a Salvation Army women’s shelter could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Theodore Robinson, 57, got the unusually long sentence because of his 40-year criminal history. Previous crimes — in New York City — included three other robberies and a manslaughter, County Court Judge Stephen Dougherty said today.
That made Robinson eligible for a relatively rare designation as a persistent felony offender: that is, convicted of his third felony.
But many criminals have three or more felonies on their record. Why did Robinson get treated more harshly?
For one, the law requires that the felonies be spread out over a period of years. In other words, a crime spree that leads to a bunch of felonies in a short period doesn’t count.
Second, the previous felonies must have each led to more than a year of prison. In other words, a persistent felony offender must serve prison time, get out and commit more crimes, go back to prison, get out a second time and commit even more crimes that warrant a third prison term.
Third, judges can decide against persistent felony status for criminals who fit those circumstances. In fact, the law requires the judge to lay out reasons for designating a persistent felon.
So what does persistent felon mean?
Persistent felons face the same sentence as a convicted murderer. In Robinson’s case, he faced 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison for the robbery at the homeless shelter.
But he was sentenced by Dougherty today to 15 years to life in prison.
Dougherty laid out Robinson’s history, which included a 1981 manslaughter conviction in the Bronx, as well as three other robbery convictions.
In fact, Robinson had been out of prison for only 17 years out of the past four decades, prosecutor Anthony Copani said.
His parole had been revoked five times since 2002, the judge said.
During the February 2017 robbery, Robinson attacked a woman at a shelter located at 1704 S. Salina St. The woman, who was helping women at the shelter, said the robbery took away her sense of safety.
Robinson later blamed the robbery on drug and alcohol use, but the judge noted video showing Robinson examining the jewelry to see if it was real after the robbery.
There was an accusation that Robinson pulled what looked like a gun during the robbery, but a jury did not find him guilty of that crime.
Defense lawyer Eric Jeschke argued that the judge should not have ruled Robinson a persistent felony offender, noting that a previous plea offer did not include such a provision.
But the judge replied that plea agreements are a way to settle a case, not necessarily to provide the punishment that someone deserves.
For his part, Robinson said he feared he was going to prison for the rest of his life.
“I know my history does not paint a good picture at all,” he said. “In no way am I a monster.”
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