Scrutiny Over Robbins’ Mental Health Delays Trial

MAYVILLE — Just two weeks shy of a second-degree murder trial, Keith L. Robbins is facing greater scrutiny over his mental health — and consequently, will not begin trial for several months.

On Monday, Robbins, the 36-year-old Jamestown man accused of murdering his estranged wife in November, appeared in Chautauqua County Court, alongside his counsel, Nathaniel Barone.

The hearing involved a notice filed by Barone in late April, in which he indicated to the court the possibility of introducing mental health evidence in trial.

Patrick Swanson, Chautauqua County district attorney, pushed back on the notice, decrying its untimely filing and lack of specificity, both of which, he said, could prove “prejudicial” against his case.

“My main concern is the notice wasn’t specific enough for us to hire whatever kind of expert we need to evaluate the defendant,” Swanson said. “Whenever you file a defense … and claim an emotional disturbance or some other malady prevents you from formulating an intent, you have to file a notice that is specific.”

Swanson further argued that a statute of the New York Criminal Procedure Law requires such notices be filed no more than 30 days after arraignment.

Since the notice was filed on April 27, it would be more than five months after Robbins’ arraignment in November, he said.

“As time passes, you worry about your expert being able to get a quality evaluation of someone for something that happened six months ago,” Swanson said. “You want your expert to get a full picture of the defendant’s mental health when they’re doing the interview … so that their opinions are based on what would be considered good science.”

Barone countered by stating mental health evidence presented in court is well within Robbins’ constitutional rights and should not be dismissed. He further argued that a combination of the public defender’s heavy caseload and limited staff was partly responsible for the delayed notice.

“A lot of these statutes that have these ‘filing time limits’ are so unrealistic,” Barone said. “The reality is … from the time someone is arraigned, it’s next to impossible to gather up all the information a psychiatrist has to look at concerning the case. It literally is next to impossible.”

Barone said the court must achieve a “balance” between a defendant’s constitutional rights to present a defense and the prejuduce that might be suffered by the district attorney.

The Hon. David Foley, Chautauqua County Court judge, agreed to move forward with the notice, but requested it be amended for more specificity by June 5. Robbins was originally scheduled for trial on June 6, but will likely begin trial in August or September.

Barone did not provide any specifics on Robbins’ mental health history, but indicated it could possibly play a “very important” role in his argument in trial.

Robbins is facing multiple charges after allegedly shooting and murdering his estranged wife — 36-year-old Shari Robbins — on Nov. 10 in a 9 Prospect St. parking lot. He was taken into custody on Nov. 15 after a six-hour standoff with police at a 2 Todd Ave. residence. During the standoff, Robbins allegedly stabbed the Jamestown police K-9 “Mitchell” after he was deployed into the home.

Robbins is charged with second-degree murder and injuring a police animal.