A co-defendant took the witness stand Wednesday in Douglas County Circuit Court during the murder trial of Kane Michael Robinson. The 20-year-old is one of five young people charged with the fatal shooting of Garth Velin in September during an alleged botched robbery attempt. One of the five young adults, Chance William Andrews, 18, has already pleaded guilty to felony murder. The other four face charges of party to the crime murder.
Teah Joan Phillips, 17, wiped away tears while offering testimony that, in some cases, diverged from details that surfaced during interviews with police. It also can’t be used against her during her own murder trial in October, as she testified under immunity.
Phillips said she and her friend Camber Nelson drove over to Duluth to meet her boyfriend, Andrews, after he called her for a ride the afternoon of Sept. 30. Andrews, Robinson, his brother Dallas Eugene Robinson, 19, and their friend Kyham Lavon Dunn, 20, got in the car. They were going to “get money for my gas tank,” Phillips said. Nelson stayed at the Robinson’s house. Was that a usual situation, District Attorney Dan Blank asked.
“No,” Phillips said, but Nelson didn’t ask any questions and neither did she. The teen said she didn’t question why Andrews had her drive to Superior and park by the Subway on East 38th Street or why he wanted her to check if Velin’s girlfriend, who didn’t like Andrews, was home.
“He said ‘Just do it,’” Phillips told the court. “I just did it.”
She followed orders from Andrews and knocked on Velin’s door to ask him if he’d seen her lost puppy. When she returned to the car, Andrews pulled up Velin’s Facebook page and asked if that’s who she saw. She said yes, and Kane mentioned that he used to play basketball with Velin. Andrews left the car with Dunn and Dallas Robinson.
“He said he was going to get money,” Phillips said. She and Kane Robinson waited in the car; he smoked a cigarette while she browsed her Facebook feed until the others returned.
“Dallas, Kyham and Chance came running back,” Phillips said, crying. “They had not good looks on their faces … they weren’t happy. I don’t know how to describe it.”
“Chance got in the car and told me we had to go and that it went bad and that he accidentally shot him.” He threatened to kill them all if they told anyone. Phillips said she returned to Duluth the long way, over the Oliver Bridge, following the speed limit. Andrews took a nap in the back seat with the gun on his lap.
Phillips said it was Andrews’ idea to get money at Velin’s, but that’s not what she told detectives.
“You said Kane, it was Kane’s idea to go get money,” Blank said, reading from interview transcripts. She also told detectives they went to Garth’s because “Kane knew he had weed.”
“It’s a horrible situation, right,” Blank told Phillips. “You’re here to tell the truth about what happened, or are you here to protect people?”
“Both,” the teen said, saying she was scared in the interrogation room and police misinterpreted the information.
Nelson took the stand prior to Phillips, who has been her friend since sixth grade. She told the court that she had a good idea the five were up to when they left her in Duluth.
“A robbery, I assumed,” Nelson said. “I just kind of assumed because it wasn’t the first time.” She said Andrews and Phillips had robbed people before. After Phillips returned with the young men, she drove Nelson back to Superior. They stopped at Kelly Park and Phillips told her what happened.
“I believed her but at the same time I didn’t want to,” Nelson said. “I didn’t want to believe it was real.”
Robinson not only knew Velin, he was familiar with his residence, 3706 E. First St., in Superior.
In other testimony, the jury learned Robinson used to babysit there for the prior tenant, Talia Jaros. She told the court that she lived in the house from July 2013 until April 2014. Velin, who Jaros thought of as a brother, would often stop by and stay the night.
“Garth didn’t have his own room, he was always there,” she said. He wouldn’t drop by or stay if Robinson was there, however, because of “something iffy about his past.”
Superior Police Investigator Sean Holmgren described the crime scene to the jury, including where two bullet casings were found and bullet holes in the walls. He said 223 grams of marijuana were found in the home. Dr. Michael Madsen, a forensic pathologist, told the court that Velin died from a gunshot wound to the chest that tore open part of his aorta and traveled into his left lung. Velin’s parents, who have attended every court proceeding involving the case, left the courtroom during the doctor’s testimony.
Robinson’s father, Michael, offered emotional testimony during cross-examination Wednesday morning. Kane Robinson was an athlete in high school and was the first member of the family to graduate. He’s had steady work since and been a loving father to his child, Zion. Andrews and Dunn were Dallas’ friends, not Kane’s, their father said. Kane had even complained about them crashing at the house when Dallas wasn’t there.
Michael Robinson said he had no idea Andrews had a gun, and he choked back tears as he was shown pictures of Andrews and Dunn posing while holding a gun. Andrews “talked like a thug,” he said, and passed himself off as a “wannabe.”
When he heard about Kane’s possible involvement in the shooting, Michael Robinson was shocked.
“I could never put him in a vehicle any way around chance, around them at all,” he said, and his son spent his last day of freedom before going to the police station with his child.
When Michael Robinson left the courtroom after testimony, sobs could be heard in the hallway.
Judge George Glonek told the jury that he expected to hand the case over for deliberation Thursday.