PRICHARD, Ala. (WKRG) — Hiawayi Robinson should be turning 16 this year. But in 2014, the 8-year-old girl from Prichard was raped, murdered and left in a pile of trash on an abandoned lot. Her father, Hiawatha Robinson, is serving out a 100 year sentence for the killing. But his defense attorney at trial said any number of men might have killed the young girl.
WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. Hiawayi Robinson’s story is the first in the series.
Sept. 16, 2014 was supposed to be like any other day, but for the Robinson family, it turned into a nightmare. Hiawayi Robinson and her cousin got off the school bus, as they would any other school day, and went to Hiawayi’s home. Hiawayi had a birthday coming up, and her grandmother called to talk about her birthday present. Her grandmother later told investigators that she believed Hiawayi got off the phone and then went to her cousin’s home to meet her father, Hiawatha.
The last time Hiawayi is seen alive is on convenience store surveillance video. The video shows her entering the store at 4 p.m. She stays inside for six minutes. What exactly happened after she left the store remains a mystery, but Hiawayi never made it home to her apartment. Reports do not say when Hiawayi’s grandmother called, but we know she called Prichard Police and Hiawayi’s mother. That evening, neighbors began searching the apartment complex for the missing girl. Family and neighbors had to wait for two excruciating days before found Hiawayi.
On Sept. 18, an employee with the City of Prichard found Hiawayi’s body in a trash pile in an abandoned lot off of Rebel Road. A medical examination of her body showed that her cause of death was positional asphyxiation. She was also found to have been sexually assaulted and sodomized. When she was found, her arms and legs were bent in the shape of a “7.” Hiawayi’s pants and underwear were around one of her ankles and the rest was bare. Some of the evidence that officers discovered around the scene included:
- two clear hair beads
- duct tape
- two zip ties
- a piece of sheetrock
- a metal bracket
- a green wrapper
- an empty box of shotgun shells
A painted, inverted cross was also found near Hiawayi’s body.
Deputies with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office said surveillance footage from the convenience store showed a maroon Chevy Tahoe, the same color and type of vehicle that Hiawatha Robinson drove. Investigators also learned that Hiawatha used to work at a building on the lot where his daughter’s body was found. One of his friends owned the lot.
Detectives with the Federal Bureau of Investigations served a search warrant at the home of Hiawatha Robinson’s girlfriend. There they confiscated surveillance video that showed Hiawatha Robinson leaving the house at 3:20 p.m. and not returning until 7:01 p.m. the video shows Hiawatha Robinson taking two pieces of clothing out of the SUV and putting them in the laundry room. When an FBI agent later interviewed him, the agent said Hiawatha Robinson was “unusually calm.” Hiawatha Robinson was arrested and charged with felony murder and sodomy.
Investigators did collect DNA evidence and hair from the scene. They tried to match it with hair taken from Hiawatha Robinson’s Tahoe, but the tests came back inconclusive. DNA comparisons were also inconclusive. Prosecutors later said in court that exposure to the elements could have degraded the samples.
Hiawatha Robinson’s defense team also leaned on evidence from the scene where Hiawayi’s body was found. They said her legs were positioned to look like the number seven. Robinson’s defense attorney said the scene, including the inverted cross, looked “ritualistic,” and suggested the killer was part of a cult. The defense said Hiawayi’s mother, Yosha, had many sexual partners who spent time around Hiawayi, any one of which could have killed the young girl.
On the fifth day of the trial, Hiawatha Robinson was brought into the courtroom where he fainted. Doctors said his fainting was likely caused by stress and anxiety. When the trial continued the next day, agents with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency accused Hiawatha Robinson of accidentally killing his daughter. Hiawatha was ultimately found guilty of felony murder and was sentenced to 100 years in prison.
In the wake of Hiawayi’s death, Alabama lawmaker’s passed the “Hiawayi Robinson Alert Law,” which requires Alabama law enforcement agencies to publicize missing children.