CANTON — The trial of a man accused of rape and sexual abuse that had been scheduled for 2020 began Monday in St. Lawrence County Court.
Fifty nine perspective jurors reported Monday morning for the trial of Lawrence L. Robinson, 59, who is charged with four counts of felony first-degree sexual abuse and one count of felony first-degree rape.
The trial had been shuffled around on several occasions, with Dec. 2 having been the original date prior to it being moved to Jan. 14, 2020.
But Robinson’s trial was added to Monday’s St. Lawrence County Court calendar after District Attorney Gary M. Pasqua said it had been returned to it’s Dec. 2 date on Nov. 27. It is not clear why the date was changed.
According to officials, 85 perspective jurors were summoned to report, however, weather conditions resulted in many of them calling in to report their absence.
Robinson, a former employee of Northern New York Newspapers, has maintained his innocence and previously turned down an offer to plead guilty to two counts of first-degree sexual assault in St. Lawrence County Court in return for a 10-year prison sentence.
If convicted on all counts, Judge Richards said Robinson faces up to 53 years in prison, but he would only have to serve 42 to 43 years.
The indictment charges Robinson with forcing sexual contact on a 14-year-old girl in Potsdam around December and February 2016. He is also accused of forcing sexual contact on the same minor in May 2016 and of forcefully raping her between June and August 2016 in the town of Parishville.
Robinson is also accused of forcing sexual contact on a 15-year-old girl between December 2017 and January 2018 and again in March 2018. Both instances are alleged in the town of Potsdam.
At its earliest, jury selection was to start Aug. 28 for his trial, but it was adjourned originally without a date pending a hearing to determine whether the prosecution could use expert testimony of Long Island clinical psychologist Dr. Donald J. Lewittes, who specializes in child and adolescent trauma, including sexual abuse, and other evidence would be allowed at trial.
During the September hearing, Dr. Lewittes testified that he was not familiar with any aspect of the case except for his professional relationship with prosecutors and the defense attorney, Edward F. Narrow.
Mr. Narrow filed a motion to keep the expert testimony of Dr. Lewittes out at trial, questioning the relevancy of his testimony. He also sought to keep prosecutors from bringing in allegations against Robinson of previous similar crimes during his trial, and requested that the court allow the defense to use portions of one of Robinson’s alleged victims records from an inpatient treatment facility to use as questioning the child’s credibility.
In a decision rendered Friday by St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome J. Richards’ ruled Dr. Lewittes can testify for the people, but “will not offer any testimony regarding any fact, legal issue, allegations or diagnosis in this case.”
He also ruled that allegations Robinson committed similar previous crimes not be admitted in at trial, ruling that “the prejudicial value of that testimony will more than likely result in conclusions about propensity to commit the charged offenses.”
Lastly, Judge Richards ruled that, while concerned about the confidentiality of the inpatient records of one of the two alleged victims, he determined that there are specific portions of the records that will assist the defense in conducting a cross-examination of the alleged victim to allow the jury to assess her credibility.
“It is more a situation of providing the defendant with a fair trial than it is a situation of protecting the alleged victim’s confidentiality,” the judge wrote.
Robinson remains released under probation supervision.