This James Robertson wiki delves into the dark and troubled mind of a career criminal, whose stay in jail was extended by decades because of his violent behavior behind bars.
James Robertson is a career criminal who has spent decades of years in prison. While there, the bored, isolated inmate came up with a unique way to get better treatment: murder his cellmate.
|About James David Robertson|
|Known As||Chicken Head|
|Birth||May 26, 1963|
|Address||Florida State Prison|
Weary of spending nearly 30 years in prison, including over 20 years in solitary confinement, Robertson killed his cellmate in 2008, for the sole purpose of escaping his dreary life in prison for “better conditions” on death row.
James Robertson: A Life Mired in Poverty, Violence, and Crime
James Robertson, inmate #322534, is probably what some people would envision when they think of a career criminal convicted of first-degree murder: tall and bald, with a wide, menacing grin and missing teeth. And he has the childhood to back it up.
James Robertson was born in Orlando, Florida on May 26, 1963 into what can only be described as a dysfunctional family. He was surrounded by poverty, drugs, alcohol abuse, crime, and violence—all of which helped deprive Robertson of a normal childhood.
He displayed symptoms of hyperactivity in his childhood, a possible sign of an underlying disorder. James Robertson did not exactly excel at school, but he never failed anything either, although he was placed in a few “special classes.” Prior records show that Robertson liked history and art, but had a lot of difficulty with science and math.
Because of his hyperactivity, between the first and third grades, James Robertson could not sit still. He got in trouble for being late to class and hanging around the bathroom.
“I didn’t go to school a lot of times,” Robertson said. “I used to skip school all the time.”
Robertson dropped out of school in the eighth grade (he would later obtain a GED in prison) and began experimenting with drugs. Between the ages of 11 and 16, he racked up a number of juvenile charges for small offenses like stealing bikes. And the older Robertson got, the more brazen he became.
“I was 16, I was hanging out on the streets, and I would see some place it looked like I could break into to it…to get some money to pay for dope,” Robertson recalled.
By all accounts, Robertson had little chance for a normal life. Violence and abuse was part of his upbringing. He also never had a job or a meaningful relationship.
Robertson’s life took a turn from bad to worse just days before he turned 17.
Happy 17th Birthday: Robertson Goes to Jail for Burglary and Assault
A couple weeks before his 17th birthday, James Robertson was charged with his first major crime as an adult. He tried to rob a store to fund his drug habit and was nabbed by a pair of security guards. And apparently he fought back.
He was charged with burglary of a structure, battery on a law enforcement officer, and two counts of aggravated assault. In May 1980, Robertson was given a 10-year sentence. It was the first time he went to prison.
For most, the threat of going to prison is a deterrent. For those who find themselves in jail, it often acts as a wake-up call. But for the teenage Robertson, it lit a fire. He fought the system frequently and with shocking results.
“Originally, I had a 10-year sentence,” Robertson said, “Then something happened. . .”
Robertson Starts Racking up Charges
While in jail, Robertson was hit with a large number of additional charges.
In October 1980, three months after being incarcerated, he and two others escaped and were quickly recaptured.
Over the following years, he would be charged with battery, trying to escape (again), battery with a deadly weapon, and smuggling contraband.
Suffice it to say, Robertson earned a reputation for violence, using a knife smuggled into his cell and using it to solve arguments with other inmates.
In his own words, Robertson has said he had a bad attitude and would, “stab dudes and stuff.”
By 2011, he had earned an additional 100 years of prison time.
James Robertson Prison Sentence History, 1980–1997
Below is James Robertson’s prison sentence history for 1980 to 1997:
|Offense Date||Offense||Sentence Date||County||Case No.||Prison Sentence Length|
|05/11/1980||BURGUNOCCSTRUC/CV OR ATT.||11/12/1980||ORANGE||8002047||4Y 0M 0D|
|05/11/1980||AGG ASSLT-W/WPN NO INTENT TO K||11/12/1980||ORANGE||8002047||4Y 0M 0D|
|08/08/1980||ESCAPE||11/12/1980||ORANGE||8003672||2Y 0M 0D|
|06/20/1985||TRANSMIT CONTRABAND-PRISON||04/10/1986||DIXIE||8500130||15Y 0M 0D|
|07/21/1987||AGG BATTERY/W/DEADLY WEAPON||03/23/1988||BRADFORD||8700278||5Y 0M 0D|
|07/21/1987||INTRODUCE WEAPON/FIREARM||03/23/1988||BRADFORD||8700278||5Y 0M 0D|
|03/23/1988||ESCAPE||11/02/1988||BRADFORD||8800158||8Y 0M 0D|
|03/23/1988||BATT.LEO/FIRFGT/EMS/ETC.||11/02/1988||BRADFORD||8800158||5Y 0M 0D|
|08/30/1988||CONSTRUC.POSSESS CONTRAB.||05/19/1989||BRADFORD||8800536||12Y 0M 0D|
|04/09/1995||1ST DG MUR/PREMED. OR ATT.(ATTEMPTED)||04/29/1997||BRADFORD||9500411||8Y 4M 11D|
|04/09/1995||CONSTRUC.POSSESS CONTRAB.||04/02/1997||BRADFORD||9500411||8Y 4M 11D|
James Robertson Transferred to Solitary
Again, most convicts learn the rules of prison early on–what to do and what not to do. James Robertson never really fit into that mold. He did know that the fastest way to get paroled was to play by the rules and respect the guards and the prison system.
But he never did those things. And Robertson knew his combative attitude would have consequences.
He spent close to 20 years in almost permanent solitary confinement, or, for those familiar with Florida penal system slang, “close management.”
Florida is not afraid to use close management. In fact, one-eighth of the prisoners in the “Sunshine State” are in close management at any given time. Those in close management are cooped up in their cell, on their own, for 23 hours a day, separated from the general population. They have few privileges and no company.
When it came to close management, Robertson claimed that the prison, “took everything from me…my TV, my property. Man, that sh*t’s torture.”
While close management is used to punish prisoners, it has negative long-term effects that may not outweigh the so-called positive benefits, including mental instability and irreparable psychological damage.
In 1998, James Robertson tried to hang himself with a bed sheet. He was hospitalized and given drug treatment.
“You just lose all motivation, man. You ain’t getting no sun, really,” he said. “The guards humiliate you all the damn time. . .they treat you like a bug or something.”
The prospect of life in close management was too much for Robertson. He’d have rather been dead, or at the very least, not in close management.
“Finally, I got mad and said ‘I’m going to go ahead and kill somebody,'” he explained. “It was premeditated. I wanted to get on death row.”
Robertson’s Former Cellmate Thought He Was a “Piece of Crap”
Robert Lynch, a former cellmate of James Robertson, does not have fond memories of the man.
“[Robertson’s] outlook is that if he thinks that he can do something to you and get by with it, he’ll do it,” he said. “If he thinks that he can’t get away with it, he won’t. And to me, that’s a coward. His problem is his knife, his violence.”
Lynch added that Robertson would pull out his knife for the smallest of things and that his perspective of close management was a “cop out.”
“I mean, you can come here and get better or you can come here and get worse,” Lynch said. “It’s up to you, really.”
Lynch argued that Robertson, who was called “Chickenhead” by some, is “…never going to change. He will always be a threat.”
James Robertson Kills Cellmate for Cushy Life on Death Row
In July 2008, Robertson, 45 (with a prospective release date of 2038), began formulating a way to escape from close management.
Thanks to his prison track record, he knew he was probably never going to get out of close confinement. He had decided that, for reasons of “dignity,” suicide was not an option. Instead, he would make the state kill him. In order to get a death sentence, he had to kill someone else.
Why did Robertson want the death sentence? Life on death row was a lot better than anywhere else in the prison system. Death row might be a death sentence, but if you’re a prisoner, it has its perks: larger cells, access to TV, and increased yard time. There is also no solitary.
Robertson Moves into Shared Cell
In 2008, Robertson was moved into a shared cell with Frank Richard Hart.
The 52-year-old Hart was small (5’6”, 133 pounds), making him easy prey for Robertson. Moreover, Robertson thought that Hart was a child molester. To make matters worse, Robertson said Hart had bad hygiene and his behavior was odd.
James Robertson thought that Frank Hart was going to be moved out of the cell they shared and transferred to general population. He knew he had to take action.
On the night of December 9, Robertson was lying awake in his cell at the Charlotte Correctional Institute in Punta Gorda. Hart was on the top bunk when guards turned off the lights and walked past the cell for a quick inspection.
At approximately 12:41 a.m., Hart was asleep in his bunk. Robertson waited until the guards made their rounds. He knew he had a 25-minute window of opportunity before they returned.
“I felt pretty confident I could overpower him,” Robertson says. “And I didn’t want to have a child molester in my cell.”
Robertson tied a pair of socks together, then woke Hart up and the two chatted momentarily. He then looped the homemade garrote around Hart’s skinny neck. According to Robertson, there was a five-minute struggle, then Hart fell limp.
“I don’t feel bad about it,” said Robertson, laughing.
James Robertson Demands Death Penalty
Getting a death sentence while currently serving time in prison is not easy as one might think. But Robertson is not stupid; he knew that he would be the only suspect in the case since he was the only other person in the cell.
At first, he denied killing Hart, thinking that this was the way to get the death penalty sentence he wanted.
But he outsmarted himself. On May 27, 2009, James Robertson was charged with second-degree murder for the death of Frank Hart. Second-degree murder does not qualify for the death penalty.
James Robertson quickly changed his tactic. At his first appearance in court on June 11, 2009, Robertson rejected the second-degree murder charge, saying it should be first-degree murder because he intentionally killed Hart.
To help bolster his case, Robertson began a letter-writing campaign to the State Attorney’s office, insisting the charges against him were wrong. If Robertson didn’t get what he wanted, he’d simply kill again.
After Robertson’s lawyer refused to go along with his death penalty cause, he hired a new lawyer, which resulted in a landmark three-year legal battle.
It ended with Robertson being sentenced to death.
But there were some bumps along the way.
In 2011, Robertson’s appointed attorney requested that Robertson be evaluated to determine his sanity at the time of the murder. Two health experts, a psychiatrist and psychologist, examined Robertson. They confirmed the inmate did not meet the standard for insanity.
In December 2011, Robertson decided he had to prove just how serious he was about being sentenced to death. The best way to do that, naturally, was to attack a corrections officer in the Charlotte County Jail.
Robertson, who did not have access to a good weapon, took a wire off a cleaning cart and struck the guard twice in the rib cage. Robertson was charged with attempted murder and attempted robbery.
Why robbery? Robertson would later claim he had no intention of killing the officer. Instead, he had to get his keys so he could unlock a cell and murder another inmate.
Fast forward to October 2012, and the state indicted Robertson for first-degree murder. Why the change of heart? The same two mental health experts evaluated Robertson again to determine if he was competent to stand trial.
Robertson told the court he intended to plead guilty. The court accepted his plea.
James Robertson waived his right to have a jury decide his sentencing, which instead was conducted by the judge. Robertson testified that he intentionally murdered Frank Hart and also admitted to the attempted murder of the Charlotte County jail guard.
The trial court sentenced Robertson to death.
Much to Robertson’s chagrin, his lawyer filed a motion to appeal.
James Robertson’s New Prison Sentence History, 2012
|Offense Date||Offense||Sentence Date||County||Case No.||Prison Sentence Length|
|12/10/2008||1ST DG MUR/PREMED. OR ATT.||12/18/2012||CHARLOTTE||0900812||DEATH SENTENCE|
|12/19/2011||2ND DEG.MURD,DANGEROUS ACT(ATTEMPTED)||12/18/2012||CHARLOTTE||1102336||15Y 0M 0D|
|12/19/2011||ROBB. GUN OR DEADLY WPN(ATTEMPTED)||12/18/2012||CHARLOTTE||1102336||15Y 0M 0D|
Life on Death Row
Life on death row was a lot better for James Robertson.
Ann Attwell, a staff nurse, explained that Robertson liked the new setup because there were fewer rules.
“In close management we deal with a lot of frustration,” she said. “They sleep most of the day, but if you go by at night. . .they’re fighting with one another. You can hear them, all not long. From the moment that James entered prison, he did not like the rules and regulations of the penal system. He did not like the rules and regulations of close management.”
“He did, however, want death row,” she added. “Their rules and regulations are very, very simple, and he could handle that.”
Attwell went on to explain that the difference between close management and death row is like, “the difference between the slums and Beverly Hills.”
On death row, Robertson could look forward to his own TV, own bedspread, better food, and a more quiet atmosphere. On top of that, prisoners on death row have individual nurses who take care of them.
“And surprisingly enough, they have this camaraderie that they’re all there together,” Atwell explained. “And in their mind’s eye, they know. . .that they’re going to be there for 25 years.”
A Relaxed James Robertson Enjoying Death Row
Not surprisingly, James Robertson is enjoying his quiet time on death row at Florida State Prison. In fact, he’s so relaxed about it he doesn’t care how he dies; lethal injection or electrocution, it doesn’t matter. But the sooner it happens, the better.
Robertson told his lawyers he doesn’t want to grow old in prison, something he could have avoided had he played by prison rules when he was first incarcerated back in 1980.
Still, Robertson seems upbeat about his death.
“I’d much rather have a needle stuck in me than be electrocuted but I could go either way,” he said. “You read how it’s ‘inhumane’ but that’s a load of bulls**t. You don’t feel anything.”
Good things come to those who wait. Robertson does not have an execution date…and that date could be years and years away. In 2014, Florida’s court of appeal decided Robertson must get an appeal.
According to the Florida Constitution, the Supreme Court must review all death cases, not just those that are contested by defendants.
Robertson’s Death Sentence Stands
James Robertson’s first-degree murder trial was a pretty simple affair. Everybody walked into it on the same page: Robertson, the defense counsel, and the prosecutors all argued in favor of the death penalty.
The trial judge went so far as to impose that sentence and prepared the written order before the plea and sentencing hearing took place. Robertson’s defense attorney even pursued the death penalty more voraciously than the prosecution did.
After the appeal process, it was determined that James Robertson’s death sentence should stand. Where some see the inmate’s death sentence as stat- assisted suicide, the conviction of first-degree murder and the sentence of death are being upheld.