Fast track for domestic violence cases is paying off in Anoka County

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 28, 2012 - 9:18 PM

Anoka County's approach helps victims and works with offenders.

Antonio Robinson stabbed his girlfriend twice as she lay in bed next to her 2-year-old child. He told an Anoka County judge Wednesday that he didn't remember stabbing her 10 more times.

Robinson was charged with attempted murder in February, but it took only a month for resolution of the case because of a unique domestic-abuse project that expedites cases through a court process that otherwise might take a year to complete.

The Anoka County project, which started in September, already has dealt with 75 serious "intimate partner" domestic assault cases. Because prosecutors can assure victims that their case is on a fast track for trial, victims recant less and make fewer requests to modify or drop no-contact orders, county officials say. Victims quickly become comfortable with the legal process because the county offers a variety of social services, including counseling or chemical dependency treatment for the offender.

"A year in crisis is an eternity," Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo said. "This is the way the program is suppose to work."

Robinson, 39, whose trial was set to start in June, pleaded guilty Wednesday to attempted murder and could receive nearly 14 years in prison. In court, he suggested that he acted in self-defense, which would have prevented Judge Alan Pendleton from accepting the plea deal. After clarifying questions from his attorney and the judge, Robinson admitted to stabbing his girlfriend a dozen times after she threatened to end their two-year relationship.

"This just doesn't sound like me," he said. "I'm just shocked I could have done her like that."

The criminal complaint said that Robinson told police his girlfriend tried to attack him with a knife, but that he had no wounds. He repeatedly asked her about the status of their relationship and when she said she wanted to see other people, Robinson said, "OK, watch this," according to the complaint. He stabbed her with a kitchen knife, slicing her face from forehead to mouth. She may have permanent eye damage, authorities said.

If the case had gone to trial, prosecutor Paul Young said, several children in the residence during the stabbing would have testified that Robinson chased his girlfriend outside after he stabbed her in the bedroom.

"I just panicked. I wanted to go," Robinson said Wednesday. "I didn't see any blood."

Comprehensive project

Palumbo said the county's domestic abuse project is the most comprehensive in Minnesota, and the Minnesota Coalition For Battered Women has asked the county to use the model to train other law enforcement officers and prosecutors throughout the state. It coincided with what Young had called an epidemic growth of abuse cases, including a rash of domestic abuse-related homicides.

Before the project was launched in September, most law enforcement agencies in the county were using an assessment questionnaire on domestic abuse calls to determine whether the victim was at risk for further injury or death. Nearly half of the 124 calls since the start of 2011 met the criteria, and the victims were immediately connected with Alexandra House in Blaine.

The county enhanced this effort with the new project, which also adds a pretrial approach that allows for new options for defendants. If a defendant is released from jail, prosecutors can suggest intensive supervision, random surveillance, drug testing or home electronic monitoring.

Expediting cases was another piece of the puzzle. The model calls for a trial date to be set within three months after a defendant makes a first court appearance. The sooner services can be offered to the victim and offender, "the more likely we will have a prevention model that works," Palumbo said. Victims are more willing to remain engaged in the process if they know it could be completed in a few months, he said.

Advocates from the county reach out to victims immediately after an incident. Many women say they felt relieved that their allegations of abuse were being taken seriously, said Emily Krech, a victim-witness specialist with the county attorney's office. They also appreciated the offer of services, especially if children are involved, she said.

At least four children were inside the residence when Robinson stabbed his girlfriend. She had planned to attend Wednesday's hearing but had some child care issues.

When Pendleton asked Robinson why he didn't leave the residence during the argument with his girlfriend, he replied that previous fights had blown over without any violence. "I shouldn't have done it," he said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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