Victim: Robin Renea Richardson, 12
Age at time of murder: 17 and nine months old
Crime date: June 2, 1992
Crime location: Bauxite, Arkansas
Partner in crime: Steven Waggoner, 18
Crimes: Murder, attempted murder, & robbery
Weapon: Hunting knife & sawed-off shotgun
Murder method: Stabbing and gun shots
Murder motivation: Robbery
Convictions: Guilty pleas to capital murder & attempted capital murder
Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) plus 30 years later reduced to life with parole after 30 years
Incarceration status: Incarcerated at the Maximum Security Unit
Kitchell and Waggoner made the choice to rob a grocery store and kill everyone inside. Kitchell murdered 12-year-old Robin while Waggoner shot and attempted to murder Robin’s mother Hazel, who worked at the store. Kitchell pleaded guilty and was sentenced to LWOP, though he got another re-sentencing hearing after a SCOTUS decision banning mandatory LWOP for juveniles. He was again sentenced to LWOP and appealed. The Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled that the killer must have a third sentencing hearing due to errors at the second hearing.
On June 2, 1992, 12-year-old Robin accompanied her mother Hazel to her place of employment at the Mount Olive Grocery store. That same day, Kitchell, who was 17 and nine months old, and Waggoner, who had just turned 18, made the choice to rob the store and to kill everyone inside. The robbers took the money in the till and forced Robin and Hazel to lie face down on the floor. They then shot and stabbed Robin to death. Kitchell stabbed her in the back. Waggoner shot Robin in the head and hand. Waggoner also shot Hazel in the neck and attempted to murder her. The attackers then left the store, leaving the victims for dead.
Kitchell and Waggoner were arrested. Kitchell later pled guilty in November to the capital murder of Robin and the attempted capital murder of Hazel. He was sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) for Robin’s murder and 30 years imprisonment for attempting to murder Hazel. Waggoner also pled guilty and was sentenced to LWOP. After SCOTUS banned mandatory LWOP for juveniles in Miller v. Alabama, Kitchell filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The circuit court granted the petition in 2016 and the case was remanded for re-sentencing. Kitchell requested that the jury not be informed that he had previously gotten LWOP as it would be prejudicial. Prosecutors argued it was appropriate for the jury to know this, as Robin’s family’s victim impact statements would include that information. The judge agreed with the prosecutors. “In the spirit of being open with the jury and truthful with the jury I think they’re gonna question why we are here on a 26-year-old case doing something again with it and I think they should be told the truth. And I think they’re capable of handling the truth.” The judge granted Kitchell’s request for a continuing objection to any reference to his previous sentence.
The resentencing trial was held on November 13-14, 2018. During the hearing Robin’s family testified about how the procedural history of the case had adversely impacted them. Robin’s sister Latrisha, who was 14 at the time of the murder, stated that she experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia, and depression since the crime and that her conditions had improved until the killer’s sentence was vacated. After that, her problems grew worse. She explained that the LWOP sentence had allowed her to feel some comfort in that “justice was served and this was something that we can move on and heal from and just pick up the pieces and live.” Robin’s father Richard testified that he had felt satisfaction knowing that the murderer had LWOP. He further explained that “reliving it just like it just happened again” due to SCOTUS’s ruling.
During closing arguments, prosecutors referred to the victim’s testimony. “This family has been safe and secure in the knowledge that [Kitchell] was life without parole. Now, the law’s changed and they’re now faced with a 30-year sentence being the maximum he can get.” Prosecutors explained that the toll the process had taken on Robin’s family was “grueling” and that it was “almost cruel what they have to do to seek justice to make sure that their child did not lose her life in vain and that they do everything they can to make sure her killer is punished….” The jury sentenced Kitchell to life, which made him eligible for parole after 30 years under Arkansas’s new laws. Kitchell appealed the sentence.
Kitchell argued in his appeal that the circuit court erred by permitting the jury to learn of his prior LWOP sentence. The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed and remanded the case for another re-sentencing. Robin’s family will endure a third sentencing hearing.