The State (Columbia, S.C.)
Apr. 14—Photos of injuries to a 3-year-old who died in foster care will be admitted in the trial of a Food Network television show winner when she goes on trial May 9.
Judge Letitia Verdin ruled the photos were necessary for the state to prove its case. They also include a photo of the autopsy of Victoria Rose Smith that show she bled to death internally from injuries to her legs.
Ariel Robinson sat through the hour and a half-long hearing emotionless, speaking on occasion to her lawyer William Bouton.
Bouton argued that the photos would be prejudicial to his client and submitted instead a graphic prepared by the doctor who performed the autopsy.
Verdin said the graphic did not adequately depict the injuries.
Prosecutor Christy Sustakovutch said the autopsy photo was needed to counter Robinson’s allegation that Tori’s 7-year-old brother had caused the injuries.
She said the degree of force used could not have been done by a 48-pound boy. “It is not intended to inflame the jury,” she said.
Bouton also sought to exclude from the trial video from the body cams worn by Simpsonville Police officers in the hours after the child was injured as they talked to Ariel Robinson.
Two officers testified she was not considered a suspect at that time and therefore she did not need to be given her rights.
The judge said she would rule on the issue early next week.
Ariel Robinson has been held in the Greenville County Detention Center since her arrest in January 2021, five days after 3-year-old Victoria, known by her biological family as Tori, died of blunt force trauma, an autopsy showed.
Her husband Jerry Robinson, who goes by his middle name Austin, was released on bond last April, after cooperating with investigators.
Ariel Robinson won the Food Network television show “Worst Cooks in America” in August 2020.
Afterward, the former middle school teacher tried to launch a career as a comedian.
Tori was taken into child protective custody when she was several months old. Her two older brothers, both then preschool age, were taken as well after a neighbor saw them outside playing when the mother was asleep inside.
The boys were sent to one foster home and Victoria to another. They all spent time over the past three years in several foster homes, but the biological family had twice monthly visits with the children.
The mother had various goals to reach to get the children back, but when the steps were not met, a family court judge terminated the mother’s parental rights. That freed the children for adoption.
The Robinsons took in Tori and her two older brothers with the intention of adopting them.
The biological family last saw the children in February 2020. They were told the children would be going to an adoptive family that would love and care for them. They did not meet the adoptive family. When they asked if they could continue to have visitation with the children they were told no because the family wanted time to bond.
A call came into 911 at 2:45 p.m. Jan. 14 from Austin Robinson saying a child in the sprawling middle-income Westwood neighborhood in Simpsonville was unresponsive. He said the girl was choking on water.
Paramedics raced Victoria to Greenville Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
The Robinsons were arrested by Simpsonville Police and the State Law Enforcement Division. SLED, by law, investigates all cases involving child abuse. Initially, it was believed the Robinsons’ adoption had been finalized but then later authorities announced the hearing was days away.
Tori was buried in the churchyard of North Fork Baptist Church in Travelers Rest.
Her biological family and the moms who cared for her in foster care stood under cloudy skies in a sure chill and watched family members carry the small white casket to the gravesite. They fought hard for the privilege to bury their child.
The Department of Social Services, which placed Victoria and her two older brothers with the people now charged in her death, initially said she would be buried quietly and the family would not know where or when.
A blanket Victoria had when she lived with her biological mom was placed under a spray of pink roses, carnations and lilies. A preacher spoke about the girl everyone described as “sassy and smart” and an iPad played the song “Dancing in the Sky.”‘ It begins “Tell me what does it look like in Heaven. Is it peaceful?”
Casie Phares, the biological mother, put a teddy bear that had been Victoria’s into the burial vault. Tiffany Huggins, the foster mom before she was sent to live with Ariel and Austin Robinson, added a mermaid.
This story was originally published April 14, 2022 12:34 PM.
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