TAMPA — It took jurors six hours to find Chauncey Robinson Jr. guilty of murder and aggravated child abuse in last year's death of his 22-month-old son, Chavon.
Robinson hung his head after the verdict was announced early Thursday afternoon. Circuit Judge William Fuente sentenced him to life in prison for the murder and 60 years for the two counts of child abuse. As Robinson sobbed uncontrollably, Chavon's mother, Shantil Galloway, tearfully told Fuente that she was grateful for the verdict.
"I miss my baby, I'm sorry it happened like this," Galloway told Fuente. "But somebody had to pay. I'm sorry."
Chavon died on Feb. 13, 2008. His head had been hit by a blow that caused the brain to swell with blood and the toddler's organs to shut down.
The fateful chain of events began when Chavon left with Robinson for a weekend visit 13 days before his death. The boy hugged his grandmother goodbye and was in good health, Galloway told jurors this week. A few days later, Galloway said she spoke with Chavon by phone and he seemed happy.
Robinson wanted to keep his son for a few days longer, so Galloway agreed because she wanted her son to spend more time with his father, she said.
As a Feb. 14 doctor's appointment approached, Galloway called Robinson and asked him to return her son. But she said Robinson refused, telling her "Your son ... needs to be toughened up."
On Feb. 13, Chavon died at St. Joseph's Hospital.
Robinson told Tampa police that he found the boy having a seizure and choking in bed at his N Lincoln Avenue apartment. He and his girlfriend Tina Tillman said he placed the toddler on the floor and performed CPR. Tillman called 911, then phoned Galloway when he didn't respond.
When she saw Robinson in the hospital later, Galloway said he told her, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." When she asked why, she said Robinson told her "because he was in my care."
Prosecutors say the boy suffered numerous injuries, including broken ribs and clavicle, ruptured organs and bruises while in Robinson's care.
Robinson's family worried about taking the case to a jury. While Robinson was arrested at least 15 times before Chavon's death, according to state records, he didn't have a history of violence, they said. He served two months in prison in 2006 for cocaine trafficking.
His father, Chauncey Robinson Sr., said the jury was going to be skeptical from the start because of the nature of the crime.
"It's a tragic case, so automatically they are going to be against him," he said.
His son had told him he was innocent, Robinson Sr. said, and he believed him. Like Robinson's lawyers, his father said it was Tillman, Robinson's former girlfriend, who deserved greater scrutiny.
The week before the trial, his son had rejected a plea deal that would have meant 30 years in jail.
"I wish he had taken the plea," Robinson Sr., 48, said before the verdict. "My heart is heavy. I stand to lose two children. I already lost my grandson, who was a fabulous little guy. Now they're going to take my son away from me. He's taking such a risk taking this to a jury."
Robinson's mother, who declined to give her name, said her son wasn't guilty.
"I'm standing by my son," she told Fuente. "True justice wasn't done today, but it will be." Christopher Watson, Robinson's attorney, said he plans to appeal.
Meanwhile, Galloway's family somberly approved the outcome. Her grandmother, Yvette Tolbert, said the verdict allowed the family to move on.
"I lost my daddy, I lost my mommy, but it never felt like this," Tolbert said. "Chavon was a jewel, a little boy you (couldn't) do anything but love. My grandson can rest now."