In late September 2001, a 12-year-old Indian Trail girl walking home from school encountered a man leaning against a rusty blue car.
The stranger ran up behind her, wrapped his arm around her neck, raped her then returned to his car, court records show. Because of the random nature of the attack on the seventh-grader, Union County prosecutors said, the case went cold until 2010.
That’s when the county Sheriff’s Office connected a suspect to the crime through a national DNA database, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.
Last week, Herbert John Robinson Jr., 32, was convicted of first-degree forcible rape of a child in the 2001 attack.
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Superior Court Judge Michael Beale sentenced him to at least 31 years and eight months in prison. The judge imposed a maximum sentence of 39 years’ imprisonment. Robinson also was ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
“I’m extremely satisfied that justice has finally been done for our victim in this case,” District Attorney Trey Robison said. The victim has had to live with the uncertainty surrounding the case for half her life, he said.
The prosecutor said he believes this was the oldest sexual assault case in the county to go to trial.
Robinson was previously convicted in 2004 for second-degree rape and related charges, court records show. After that conviction, his DNA was entered into the national database, prosecutors said.
A match eventually was found between Robinson’s DNA and DNA collected from the 12-year-old’s rape. Robinson was charged in that case in November 2010 shortly before his previous sentence was set to expire, prosecutors said.
The district attorney said that despite the DNA match, the case was “no slam dunk,” given how long it took to get to trial. It helped that the victim testified in the case.
“It was an extremely courageous thing to come up, 12 years later, and do what she did,” Robison said. “It was an emotional moment in the courtroom when she testified. Jurors hugged her after (the case) was over.”
Robison also praised the work of Assistant District Attorney Kerri Fredheim, and Lt. Brian Helms and Sgt. Andy Mullis in the Sheriff’s Office.
Robinson indicated he plans to appeal his latest conviction.
Despite having a DNA test being used to help convict him, Robinson made an unusual request of the court regarding a different DNA test.
In 2012, he told court officials he wanted to find out if he was the father of his ex-girlfriend’s son. To determine paternity, he asked for their help in getting a DNA test.
Prosecutors are not aware that the request was honored.