New twist in 'Boy in the Bag' case

The mother has agreed to testify against the father.

Posted: June 05, 2007

Alicia and Lawrence Robinson blamed each other for the death of little Jerell, the 4-year-old who would become known as "the Boy in the Bag" after his unidentified corpse was found stuffed in a canvas sack under the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Prosecutors charged both with murder in 2005, after a tip from a relative ended the 11-year mystery of the boy's identity.

But, yesterday, Camden County prosecutors dropped the murder charge against Alicia Robinson, in an agreement that calls for her to testify against her husband.

Alicia Robinson, 34, pleaded guilty to hindering apprehension and will be sentenced to five years in prison. With time served since her arrest, Robinson could be paroled before her husband's trial.

Dressed in a red prison jumpsuit, she answered a series of questions in Superior Court in Camden, describing how Lawrence Robinson - then her boyfriend - called and told her to come home and watch Jerell so he could go to a job interview.

"And when you came home, it was evident that Jerell was in some sort of distress?" asked Robinson's public defender, Marcia Soast.

"Yes," Robinson answered, choking back tears.

Lawrence Robinson, who was not Jerell's father, told her the boy was dead.

"In fact, he was beaten to death by your boyfriend at the time?" Soast asked.

"Yes."

Alicia Robinson admitted to helping Lawrence stuff the boy into a bag. They rode together on a bus from their Camden apartment to Philadelphia, where she said he dumped the bag in a vacant lot under the bridge.

Alicia Robinson said Jerell was killed in November 1993, but investigators could never confirm when, exactly, he had died of blunt force trauma.

The boy's body wasn't found until May 1994, when he earned the infamous nickname. The nameless corpse lay in a city morgue until 2001, when Mary Peck, a North Philadelphia grandmother who was moved by the story, arranged for a funeral.

Jerell's ashes were interred beneath a gravestone that read, "God bless this grave of this unknown boy."

In early 2005, one of Jerell's uncles came across a forensic reconstruction of the boy's head on the Web site of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He recognized certain features and called detectives.

Alicia Robinson was arrested, and DNA testing linked her to the boy.

Lawrence Robinson, 37, maintains his innocence, and a trial date could be set in July, said Joel Mayer, his attorney. Mayer also said Alicia Robinson's story was backward.

"He wasn't home when this happened," he said. "She was the one who called him."

Mayer said prosecutors approached his client about pleading guilty and testifying against Alicia Robinson, but Lawrence Robinson wasn't willing to admit any guilt in Jerell's death.

"They're putting a lot of faith in her," he said. "There is no forensic evidence in this case that points a finger to Lawrence Robinson. They need her and they're willing to let her off the hook on a murder."

Soast said investigators looked into their stories, searching for corroboration. She said detectives talked to Alicia Robinson's other children, who said Lawrence Robinson was abusive, but not their mother.

"Her version was the truthful and credible one," she said.

Robinson has 10 other children, the last one born in jail after her arrest. Most of the children - six, or seven of them, Soast said - were fathered by Lawrence Robinson. The two were married sometime shortly after Jerell's death.

Alicia Robinson's other children have been in custody of family members.

"It's always been a surprise to me how the mother of a young child would remain silent for so long if anyone else had committed an act of violence to her children," Mayer said.

But, prosecutors have noted that Lawrence Robinson had a violent past - he was convicted several years ago of a sexual assault and sentenced to eight years in prison.

During yesterday's hearing, Alicia Robinson also agreed to give up any claim to a defense of "battered women's syndrome," suggesting that her husband was abusive to her.


Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 856-779-3893 or tgraham@phillynews.com.

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