An Allentown man who was convicted of the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl has agreed to give up his appeal rights in that case in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, according to a Friday release from Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin.
In addition to waiving his appeal rights, Harvey M. Robinson also waived any right to ever seek a pardon or a commutation of sentence from the governor.
In 1994, Robinson was convicted of the rape and murder of Charlotte Schmoyer, a newspaper carrier, as well as two other women, Joan Burghardt and Jessica Fortney.
In each case he was originally sentenced to death. The defendant remains sentenced to death for the Fortney murder. In 2012, Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas Judge Edward Reibman denied the defendant’s latest challenge to that sentence and it is currently on appeal.
Under Pennsylvania Law, in capital first degree murder cases, the jury first decides the question of guilt. If the jury finds a person guilty of first degree murder, then a second question, the sentence to be imposed, is presented to the same jury. The jury weighs aggravating and mitigating factors and determines whether a sentence of death or life imprisonment should be imposed. The jury in Robinson’s cases imposed the death sentence in all three cases.
In 2001, Judge Reibman upheld the guilty verdict but vacated the death sentence for the murder of Schmoyer, holding that the Trial Judge gave an improper instruction to the jury during the original sentencing phase.
After that ruling, the Commonwealth immediately advised the Court that it would re-try Robinson in a new sentencing trial, to again seek a sentence of death. Over the next decade, Robinson, represented by several different court-appointed lawyers, filed numerous appeals and motions. Over the objection of the Commonwealth, several postponements requested by various defense attorneys were granted by the Court.
Currently the sentencing re-trial for the Schmoyer killing is scheduled for March 2013, almost 12 years after the Commonwealth asked the Court to hold it.
On Friday, Dec. 14, Robinson signed a written agreement, and ratified it in court, waiving his right to challenge the conviction or the sentence for the Schmoyer killing in exchange for a life sentence. Under Pennsylvania Law, a life sentence means that Robinson will serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. The hearing was held before Judge Reibman, and he imposed the sentence of life imprisonment.
Lehigh County Chief Deputy District Attorney and Chief of Prosecutions, Stephen M. Van Natten said that after the Commonwealth was successful in defeating Robinson’s most recent appeal to his death sentence for the Fortney killing, the Schmoyer family requested that the District Attorney conclude Charlotte’s case without the necessity of further hearings or appeals. The family has approved of this resolution.
Martin said the agreement is in the best interest of the Schmoyer family and is in the interest of justice. “The Schmoyer family wanted to resolve this case so they can have some measure of closure. It has been almost two decades and they have endured continued trauma every time the case has been scheduled and continued and when new appeals and motions have been filed,” Martin said. “This agreement also protects society and the public safety because it ensures that an extremely dangerous person will remain in prison for the rest of his life. In addition, the death sentence for the Fortney killing has been upheld on both direct and collateral appeal; will continue to be pursued; and, we are very confident that it will remain intact after all the appeals are exhausted.”
After the death sentences were originally set in 1994, Robinson filed numerous appeals. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld all the convictions. However, the death sentence for the killing of Joan Burghardt was vacated after a 2005 United States Supreme Court ruling held that offenders who committed murder while they were juveniles (under age 18) could not be sentenced to death. Robinson, who was 17 when he committed the Burghardt murder, was then sentenced to life in prison for that murder.
The death sentence for the Fortney killing was upheld by Judge Reibman and on direct appeal by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Robinson then filed an appeal seeking collateral relief under the state’s Post Conviction Relief Act, claiming that his trial attorneys were ineffective during his original sentencing trial. In that appeal Robinson sought a new sentencing trial. In June 2012, Judge Reibman denied that appeal. Robinson has appealed that ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and with the resolution in the Schmoyer case, it is his only remaining appeal.
In other 1993 cases, Robinson pled guilty to raping and attempting to kill another woman, burglary, and engaging in a shootout with a police officer; and was also convicted of raping and attempting to kill a 5 year old girl.
Currently, Robinson is serving an aggregate sentence of more than 140 years to 280 years for those other cases; two life sentences for the murders of Joan Burghardt and Charlotte Schmoyer; and in facing the sentence of death for the murder of Jessica Fortney.