Prosecutors Dismiss Charges in "Junk Science" Murder Case

Tristen Rivet's mother believes a guilty man has been set free.
Tristen Rivet's mother believes a guilty man has been set free.
Courtesy Barbara Hope

Montgomery County prosecutors dismissed all charges Thursday against Neal Robbins, whose murder conviction was vacated in 2014, after he served 15 years for the murder of his girlfriend's 17-month-old daughter. 

Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said there was not enough evidence to pursue new charges against Robbins, whose odyssey through Texas courts helped bring about the state's "junk science" law. 

Robbins's 1999 conviction was based almost entirely on testimony from then-Harris County assistant medical examiner Patricia's Moore finding of homicide. After Moore reviewed her findings in 2007, she changed the manner of death to "undetermined," and Montgomery County prosecutors were unable to find another expert to officially declare it a murder. This left Robbins in the Kafka-esque position of being convicted of a murder that may not have officially happened.

Houston attorney Brian Wice, who argued Robbins's case multiple times before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and who pushed for the junk science law, told the Conroe Courier, "Today’s result was possible only because [Ligon] recognized that being a tough but fair prosecutor sometimes means more than putting people in the penitentiary; and we’re grateful to Mr. Ligon for doing the right thing for the right reason.”

Wice previously told the Houston Press that the new law was "a failsafe mechanism that really is designed to kind of clean up the scientific junkyard that's out there...This statute recognizes that when an expert's opinion — or the underlying science on which that opinion is based — has now been contradicted, then a defendant shouldn't have to rot in prison because an expert got it wrong the first time around."

But Rivet's mother, Barbara Hope, still believes Robbins killed her daughter.

"A man that killed a 17-month-old baby is out walking around town," Hope told the Courier. 

Hope told the Press in February that Robbins, who has always denied killing Rivet, was acting strange the day the child was found dead in her crib in May 1998. As we reported, Hope claimed that Robbins


"seemed jittery, anxious to leave the mobile home after Hope returned from running errands that day. Hope said Robbins told her several times not to go check on the baby, because he had just put her down. By the time she did, she said, she found her daughter cold to the touch, with the ceiling fan on its highest setting and a pillowcase over the girl's face.

'The whole thing is a nightmare," Hope said. 'Even though he gets out of prison, I don't. And none of it brings her back.'

Wice told the Courier in an email that Robbins "looks forward to this next chapter of his life, spending time (with) his family, friends and loved ones, and learning how to deal with ATMs, smart phones and the Internet, none of which existed when he went to prison during the Clinton administration."


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