Originally published in The Akron Beacon Journal
Sunday, November 3, 1996
CAROLYN PAIRAN TELLS WHY SHE ADMITTED KILLING A MAN WHO SHE NOW SAYS WAS SHOT BY SOMEONE ELSE
By DAVID KNOX
CAROLYN PAIRAN TELLS WHY SHE ADMITTED KILLING A MAN WHO SHE NOW SAYS WAS SHOT BY SOMEONE ELSE
By DAVID KNOX
Marvin R. Robinson had the motive -- rage that a drunken bar patron had broken the window of his girlfriend's Cadillac.
He had the background -- a long history of violence, including convictions for manslaughter, kidnapping, armed robbery and rape.
Robinson even announced his intentions, threatening to kill the patron just hours before his body was discovered outside the back door of the North Akron bar.
But Robinson never stood trial for murder, despite the strong belief of police and prosecutors that he was the prime suspect.
His girlfriend said she killed the man. And nothing -- not even the prospect of years in prison -- could budge her from that story.
Not until Robinson pulled a knife and nearly killed an Akron man last August did Carolyn L. Pairan come forward with a different tale: that Robinson did the January 1993 killing.
"I don't want anyone else to get hurt," Pairan said during a telephone interview from Ohio's prison for women in Marysville, where she is serving an 11- to 25-year sentence for the killing.
In a motion filed last month in Summit County Common Pleas Court, Pairan said she lied about shooting the man to protect the real killer, Robinson, a paroled convict she had met while working as a guard at the state penitentiary at Chillicothe.
To overturn her conviction, Pairan must convince authorities of her claim that she "was pathologically under Marvin's spell" and had been "conned and seduced by a convicted con into taking the rap" because he didn't think a * middle-aged, white woman with no criminal record would be convicted.
Some people, including county Prosecutor Maureen O'Connor, find the new story hard to believe.
"She confessed to doing the shooting," said O'Connor, who opposes Pairan's motion. "This is not new evidence she is bringing forward."
Pairan's claim that she lied for love is a tough sell in the hard world of the criminal justice system, where the guilty often hide behind thickets of lies within lies. But Pairan, 52, said she didn't know anything about that world until 1987, when she was hired as a guard at the newly opened state penitentiary in Chillicothe.
Within six years, Pairan was transformed from a middle-class rural housewife and mother of two into the bar-owner girlfriend of a convicted killer.
A few months later, she was behind bars, accused of murder herself.
Ready for change
Pairan readily accepts a share of the blame for what happened. While Robinson might have lured her down the path to disaster, she says, she was ready to take a new road even before she met him at the prison.
That's why she applied for the guard's job in the first place.
Pairan, who was born and raised in the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio, said she had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the quiet, rural life after her two grown children left home. "I felt I was tied down," she said. "I wanted to live a little more."
A tall, strapping woman, Pairan was hired by the prison, even though she had no law-enforcement experience and had never worked full time in her 20-plus years of marriage.
What she found inside the prison was a foreign, big-city environment. In some ways, she said, working there changed her for the better, making her more confident and independent.
But the prison -- in the person of Robinson -- also preyed on a vulnerability.
"I was at an age where you feel you're not attractive anymore," she said. "Marvin had a way about him. ... He told me I was attractive, that I was smart. I needed to hear that at that time."
Pairan met Robinson, who was 15 years younger, when she was assigned to guard the cafeteria where he worked as a clerk.
He had been in prison since 1982, serving a 14- to 50-year sentence for manslaughter for his role in the robbery, kidnapping and murder of a University of Akron student.
Pairan said she didn't discourage his attention -- which started with "little poems to me" -- and she gradually fell deeply in love.
"I'd get up in the morning, and I was whistling because I was going to work, and I would be around someone who thought I was special," she said.
Although Pairan said she had no physical relationship with Robinson at the prison, their growing closeness was obvious to prison officials. In 1989, Robinson was transferred to the Grafton Correctional Institution in Lorain County.
Robinson called Pairan at home and said he wanted to continue the relationship after he was paroled: "He said we owed it to one another."
She started writing a reply, explaining that that couldn't happen because she was married.
Husband finds letter
Pairan never mailed the letter. Her husband found it. He had sensed for years that he and his wife were growing apart, but until finding the letter had never suspected she was in love with someone else.
"We had developed different philosophies," said the ex-husband, a 58-year-old retired mill worker who agreed to be interviewed if he wasn't identified further. "She felt she would like to enjoy life right now. I wanted to save as much money as I could for retirement. ... She wanted to buy a Corvette."
He never tried to learn the identity of the other man, but suspected he was another guard. "All I knew was she was writing to somebody and it wasn't me."
Their marriage limped along for a while after that, but the damage was irreparable. Pairan left in December 1991 and moved to Columbus to live with her son, a college student. The divorce ending the 28-year marriage came the following year.
While in Columbus, Pairan began dating Robinson, who had been paroled several months earlier and had returned to the Akron area. Pairan moved in with him and arranged a transfer to the Lorain Correctional Institution, the state prison closest to Akron.
The job didn't last long. Robinson's parole officer tipped prison officials to their relationship and they gave her an ultimatum.
Pairan chose Robinson over the job.
She purchased C&J's Place, a bar at 96 Cuyahoga St., in October 1992 and invested about $40,000 from her divorce settlement in the business.
Three months later, shortly after closing at 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 27, 1993, Pairan's new life came to an end.
Earlier that evening, Pairan got into an argument with a patron, Frankie A. Robinson, who lost his temper and broke out a window in her Cadillac after she refused to run a tab for two 40-ounce bottles of beer.
Frankie Robinson, 38, was not related to Marvin Robinson, but they knew each other well. Frankie's mother had taken Marvin in as a child and raised him almost as one of her own.
"Marvin left the bar looking for Frankie," Pairan said. "He took a gun with him."
Fearing for Frankie Robinson's life, Pairan said, she telephoned his mother about 10 or 15 minutes later.
As she was talking, Marvin Robinson returned to the bar and grabbed the phone. Pairan said she heard Robinson say, "I'm going to kill Frankie."
The mother, Pauline Robinson, died last December. But her daughter, Paula Singleton, confirmed recently that her mother told her that Marvin Robinson had threatened her brother's life. In fact, he apparently did it twice -- once in the telephone conversation Pairan overheard and earlier when he had visited the mother's home.
Singleton said her mother even offered to pay for the broken window, but Marvin Robinson stormed out.
"He said he was going to kill Frankie," Singleton said her mother told her.
David Rohrer, the former assistant county prosecutor who tried Pairan's murder case, said he heard the same story from the mother.
Rohrer, now in private practice in Darke County near Dayton, said he always believed Marvin Robinson was the killer and is willing to testify on Pairan's behalf if she agrees to plead guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice.
Robinson's mother was never called to testify about the threat because Pairan confessed to the killing, Rohrer said.
"It became useless because we couldn't try Marvin," he said.
Pairan didn't take the blame for the killing when first questioned by police.
Initially blames Robinson
She initially told them that Marvin Robinson fired the fatal shot. Then she said she had shot Frankie Robinson in self-defense after he lunged at her when she refused to let him in the back door.
Pairan said she changed her story after investigators told her that her first account didn't fit the evidence they had found. By that time, she said, Marvin Robinson apparently had already told police that he was at home at the time of the killing.
"I didn't know whether Marvin was going to turn on me," she said. "I started thinking maybe Marvin was right -- that I'm a white female and maybe I'll get off. He planted that in my head when we were in the bar."
Marvin Robinson is black, as was Frankie.
The police report noted that Pairan agreed to tape-record her confession only if "Marvin would face no charges and was free to leave."
Pairan now says she never saw the shooting. She said Marvin Robinson went outside when they heard Frankie Robinson's car pull up as they were closing the cash register for the night. "The next thing I heard was shots go off."
When Robinson returned, he told her that, because of his record, he faced life in prison for the killing or even the death penalty.
But he assured her she could escape punishment by pleading self-defense, Pairan said.
"He told me, 'They aren't going to do anything to you.' "
He was almost right. Pairan's first trial ended in a hung jury. At the second, on Feb. 3, 1994, she was acquitted of murder but found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
One juror, Richard Karg of Tallmadge, said about half the panel initially believed her self-defense claim and wanted to acquit on all charges except for one factor: Frankie Robinson had not died immediately. Left unattended behind the bar, he bled to death.
"It was self-defense up to the point of stepping over the body and going home without reporting it," he said.
But Karg also said that jurors discussed the possibility that Marvin Robinson was the killer -- even though there was no testimony even suggesting that.
"We all kind of said he could have done this," Karg said. "She had not received so much as a traffic ticket ... Deep down in my mind, I couldn't imagine her shooting the man.
"But she took the stand and said she did it. It was pretty hard to say she didn't."
Laywers has no doubts
Stanley Tolliver, the Cleveland lawyer who represented Pairan at her second trial, said he had no doubts about Pairan's claim to have killed in self-defense.
"The only thing I can go by is what she testified to," he said.
Tolliver said there also was no question Pairan loved Marvin Robinson.
"She paid me to represent Marvin," said Tolliver, who defended Robinson against an obstructing justice charge that followed his admission that he hid the gun used in the killing. The charge was dropped after a two-year legal battle over whether police had promised Robinson immunity if he helped them find the gun.
In her request for a new hearing, Pairan charged that Tolliver's involvement with Robinson was an ethical conflict and that he should have suspected Robinson's guilt because he failed a lie-detector test.
Tolliver said the possibility of a conflict was raised by prosecutors, but rejected by the judge.
While in prison, Pairan said she "told the truth" to a public defender and a Chillicothe minister. But she said she did not take steps to overturn her conviction until late last year, after her appeals were exhausted.
At that point, she contacted an Akron attorney, who suggested Pairan take a polygraph test. She passed, according to a report by William Evans, president of Poly-tech Associates of Akron.
Her ex-husband has agreed to pay the legal costs of her bid for freedom, retaining Annette Powers of Akron as her attorney.
Does he still love Pairan?
"That is not an issue," he said. "It was the right thing to do. She had no one else she could turn to."
It's not an issue for Pairan, either, who maintains she still has "strong feelings" for Robinson.
Several factors, including the poor health of her father, contributed to her decision to come forward, Pairan said. "I don't want him to die thinking I killed someone," she said.
But Robinson's conviction in December for another violent crime gave her the final push, she said.
Robinson was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison for stabbing a 34-year-old Akron man in August -- little more than two months after being freed after the obstructing justice charge was dropped.
The victim of the attack, Dean M. Barbieri, said he didn't know Robinson. He and a friend were walking down the street when they saw Robinson forcing a woman into a car outside a bar.
When Barbieri's friend tried to intervene, Robinson grabbed a pipe from the car and struck the friend in the face, breaking his jaw. Barbieri, a warehouse dock worker, jumped into the fray but the fight was broken up by passers-by.
As he was walking away, Barbieri heard a woman scream a warning. He turned in time to see Robinson lunging at him with a knife.
Barbieri said he hopes Pairan succeeds in overturning her conviction because that would mean Robinson would face a murder charge that could keep him behind bars for a long time.
As it stands now, Robinson is eligible for parole in about eight years. Last week, he declined through prison officials to be interviewed.
Paula Singleton also thinks Robinson should be tried for the murder of her brother. But she said Pairan deserves punishment as well -- for waiting so long to come forward.
"My mother died not knowing the truth," she said.
© Copyright 1998 The Akron Beacon Journal