19-year-old Champaign woman gets 52 years for role in 2020 murder

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URBANA — A 19-year-old Champaign woman was sentenced Friday to 52 years in prison for her role in the 2020 murder of an Urbana man.

Judge Randy Rosenbaum handed down the sentence Friday afternoon to Amari Robinson for the Oct. 8, 2020, first-degree murder of Martin Morrow. Rosenbaum delivered the sentence on the count of intent to kill after he denied a motion for a new trial that Robinson had initiated last year.

“I honestly can say that I have made mistakes in my life, but one thing I can never admit is pulling the trigger to kill Martin Morrow,” Robinson said, maintaining her innocence.

Mr. Morrow, 29, was shot 14 times in the 3000 block of West William Street, just west of Duncan Road, as he walked in a group of five people, including Robinson. Co-defendant Printiss Turner, 21, of Urbana, another member of that group, is still awaiting trial.

Before the sentence was handed down, the court heard a victim-impact statement from Konika Morrow, the eldest of Mr. Morrow’s five sisters.

“This was the act of a monster or monsters who do not deserve to be on the streets but locked away like the animals they are,” she said. “Amari, you took a son from a mother and father, a brother from his siblings, an uncle from his nieces and nephews and a father from his children. My brother will never get to see his children graduate. He will never get to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.”

Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said she was pleased with Rosenbaum’s ruling after the proceedings.

“These are always tragic situations for everyone,” she said. “I always wish I didn’t have to be making this argument because this family lost a loved one, but I hope the judge made the right decision.”

‘Lepp litigated the heck out of this case’

Robinson’s attorney Dan Clifton spent the first portion of Friday’s proceedings continuing her argument that Assistant Public Defender Lindsey Lepp was ineffective when she represented Robinson during the four-day jury trial that ended with a conviction in September 2022.

Robinson was represented by Clifton and David Cox of the Monticello Cox Law Firm. 

Testifying from the stand, Robinson complained that Lepp did not share case documents with her despite repeated requests, didn’t inform her who would be testifying during the trial until the day of, and didn’t consult her before characterizing her as “hot-headed” in closing remarks.

Robinson also said she wanted to testify during the trial because she had evidence that witnesses had lied on the stand but ended up remaining silent as she was confused about her case, and Lepp had failed to explain that there were potential protections from cross-examination.

“She didn’t represent me to the best of her ability at all,” Robinson said. “It was horrible.”

Rietz confirmed that Rosenbaum informed Robinson during the September trial that, despite Lepp’s advice, she was free to testify if she wanted to.

Clifton submitted 14 new items as evidence, including local police reports and interviews that he argued Lepp could have used during the trial to call witnesses that might have implicated other shooters or cast doubt on the authority of witnesses called to the stand.

Rietz objected to the majority of the items, arguing it was the defense’s burden to prove that items of evidence would have altered the trial’s outcome. She said it was inappropriate for Clifton to speculate on what witnesses not called to the stand might have said.

While Rosenbaum accepted all but one of the items as evidence, he ultimately denied Clifton’s motion for a new trial, pointing out that the defense could have called the potential witnesses themselves during post-trial proceedings. The judge also said that while Lepp was under no legal obligation to share case documents with her client, she read many of them to Robinson, verbatim, over the phone.

“The fact is, Ms. Lepp litigated the heck out of this case,” Rosenbaum said. “She filed many motions prior to trial. We had a lot of hearings on that; she raised a lot of issues during trial; she objected; she thoroughly cross-examined. There was really meaningful adversarial testing. There wasn’t one area that I think shows ineffectiveness of counsel.”

‘A mockery of the system’

Sandria and Arlene Coleman, two of Robinson’s aunts, both testified in support of the 19-year-old’s character ahead of her sentencing. The relatives said Robinson had brought a lot of joy to their family, and Arlene Coleman said Robinson suffered from abuse and PTSD as a preteen.

“She’s not destroyed, but she has been damaged,” Arlene Coleman said.

“I think she deserves to have a shot at life,” Sandria Coleman said. “I don’t think her life should be just thrown away like she’s trash. She’s not trash.”

But Rietz argued there were few mitigating circumstances to her sentencing recommendation, even despite the fact that Robinson was 16 when she fired some of the 14 shots that killed Mr. Morrow. Rietz said the courtroom had only seen a reference to and not evidence of childhood trauma, that Robinson reported having close ties to a supportive family and had a significant juvenile court history.

Rosenbaum sided with the prosecution, echoing the need to set an example for other young people and that Robinson’s behavior in the courtroom was aggravating to her sentence.

“She could take remorse and say ‘I’m sorry someone died, I didn’t do it, but I’m sorry someone died.’ But she didn’t even do that,” Rosenbaum said. “She has sighed, she’s laughed during trial, during these proceedings as well, she’s somewhat made a mockery of the system, and this all bears on her rehabilitative potential.”

Based on the charges, Robinson was facing a sentence of 45 years to life. Depending on her behavior in prison, she has a chance to be paroled in 20 years, Rosenbaum said.

At the end of the proceedings, Robinson filed a motion of appeal.

“All I got to say is, I believe in God and I know that I’m going to have another chance in this courtroom, no matter how long you sentence me,” Robinson said. “I’m gonna be home.”

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