Wichita murder case, child sex crimes allegations collide
WICHITA – A key witness in a pending child sex crimes case against a former Wichita police sergeant was charged this past week with raping, sodomizing and murdering a 27-year-old mother.
In media interviews since Ciera Ray’s body was found in her home on June 25, suspect Marvin L. Gray Jr. and his mother have publicly acknowledged that he is one of the men or boys alleging that Alex Robinson sexually abused them when they were younger.
It was Gray’s allegations about what happened when he was a child that triggered an investigation leading to the charges against Robinson, according to officials. The 52-year-old former officer and former school district safety supervisor had been a mentor for youths and received a 2007 presidential award for his volunteer work helping children.
Gray’s mother, Shirley Austin, said she worries that the charges against her 26-year-old son will be used to challenge his credibility as a witness against Robinson. Gray and two teenage boys testified at a preliminary hearing in April that Robinson sexually abused them. Gray said he met Robinson, then an officer, through the Boys & Girls Clubs when he was 11 or 12 and that Robinson sodomized him at Robinson’s apartment and molested him at a Wichita recreation center. The testimony helped convince a judge that Robinson should face trial.
The last thing her son would want to see is Robinson being cleared of any charges, his mother said.
And although Austin contends her son is innocent of the charges in Ray’s death, if he were guilty, she would blame Robinson, because she believes he severely harmed her son when he was a child, she said.
“If he did this (murder), it’s Alex’s fault,” said Austin, 47. “But like I say, he didn’t do this (murder).”
Police say Ray suffered multiple injuries. Her 3-year-old daughter had been left alone for hours with the mother’s body in their home at 23rd and Green.
Gray, who is being held under a $500,000 bond in the Sedgwick County Jail, couldn’t be reached for comment. His court-appointed attorney, Chrystal Krier, said Friday: “He is presumed innocent; he has only been charged.”
While the murder case has just begun to unfold, District Attorney Marc Bennett said Thursday that he intends “to proceed with the prosecution of Alex Robinson.”
Robinson’s attorney, Steven Mank, said Friday that “Robinson continues to profess his innocence.” Robinson faces eight counts of sex crimes against children. His trial had been scheduled for July 6 but has been delayed, with no new trial date set. Meanwhile, he is being held in jail in Colorado, where he was recently convicted of sexual assault of a child, age 15 to 18, by a person in a position of trust.
Mank said he thought that the two cases – Robinson’s and Gray’s – can be dealt with separately. But other lawyers say that the intersection of the two cases, via Gray, raises questions of how each case might affect the other.
In the Robinson case: Will Gray continue to be a willing witness for the prosecution now that he is being prosecuted in the murder case? Will his credibility as a witness be questioned because of the charges against him? Or will jurors blame any problems Gray might have had on alleged abuse by Robinson?
In the murder case: Would Gray say anything on the witness stand in the Robinson case that might affect his murder case? If he cooperates with police and prosecutors by testifying in the Robinson case, will that be used as a factor in favor of a lesser sentence if Gray is convicted? If jurors believe Gray was abused as a child, will that also be a factor in his potential sentencing?
“So it cuts both ways,” said Roger Falk, a Wichita lawyer who has defended a number of clients charged with murder, including Brett Seacat, a former Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy and police trainer convicted of murdering his wife in 2011 and setting their Kingman house on fire.
The bottom line is that the charges against Gray could end up weakening the case against Robinson, Falk said. “I would be concerned if I was the prosecutor.”
Although it might be difficult to introduce testimony about a pending murder case against a witness, jurors might know about it from reading the news, Falk said. A defense attorney could try to find a way to raise the issue to attack the witness’ credibility. Also, jurors might question a witness’ credibility if he comes to court wearing jail garb.
Generally, attorneys will question whether an opposing witness is providing testimony in the hope of receiving leniency in another case in which they are facing charges.
And there is another thing to consider, Falk said: If Robinson were to be convicted of harming Gray as a child and if there is an argument that that caused problems for Gray, a prosecutor might argue that Ray, the 27-year-old mother, was the ultimate victim.
A woman who previously had been involved with Gray and who was the victim in a 2010 aggravated battery case in which Gray was convicted, said he once told her he had been raped as a child.
“He never told me a name, he just said he was a police officer” and he used to volunteer with a youth group, the woman said. In the battery case, Gray had been originally charged with rape, and the woman said that Gray raped her and beat her multiple times as late as 2012. She said she considers herself a victim of sex crimes and asked to not be named.
She said she didn’t pursue charges against Gray because he threatened her and because she thought the criminal justice system wouldn’t side with her. She and Gray have been in a child custody battle.
As for the violence she says she suffered: “He would use his weight against me. He’s very big compared to me.” Gray’s nickname is “Tank.” He is 5-foot-7 and weighs 198 pounds, according to jail records.
The woman said she once asked Gray: “Why would you rape me if it was done to you as a kid? You should know that it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.” He would react with “just like a blank stare,” she said. “When Marvin gets angry, it’s just like … talking to a wall.”
The woman said she saw Gray and Ray, the woman he is accused of killing, together at the River Festival.
‘He wouldn’t kill’
Austin, Gray’s mother, said Ray and her son were friends and that she could remember Ray pulling her car to the curb in front of Austin’s home last year. Gray got into the car and chatted with Ray. Later, shortly before Ray was killed, Austin said, she heard her son on the phone talking to Ray and telling her: “We’ll come over here, and we’ll help you find the shoes.” Ray was apparently trying to find shoes for a birthday outfit, and her son liked to go shopping and help a woman find clothes, Austin said. “He’s real stylish.” She said he worked as some sort of cook; in his affidavit requesting a court-appointed lawyer, he said he was employed by a Rock Road restaurant.
“I raised my boys to respect women and not to beat on them,” Austin said, adding that she didn’t believe that her son had raped the woman involved in the 2010 case.
“I didn’t raise no demon,” Austin said. “He wouldn’t kill a lady in front of her daughter and leave the child inside.”
Regarding the Robinson case, Austin said that when her son was a boy, Robinson was his mentor through the Boys & Girls Clubs and that she met him at the youth club several times; Robinson also picked up her son at her home.
Years later, after the sex-crimes allegations against Robinson became public, Austin said she asked her son why he never told her what happened to him as a boy. Gray said that Robinson warned him that if he told anybody, he would be taken from his family, she said.
Her understanding, she said, is that the case against Robinson was developed after her son went to a church and told people there that Robinson had abused him, and then someone from the church went with Gray to talk to police about the allegation, prompting the investigation of Robinson.
Austin said the sexual abuse her son would have suffered would explain the difficulties she had with him, including his anger.
Marilyn Hutchinson, a forensic psychologist in Kansas City, Mo., who often works with battered women and adults who suffered abuse as children, said childhood abuse makes people much more prone to substance abuse and mental health problems, “because their brain does not grow correctly when they’re abused.” It affects personality and the ability to control emotions such as anger, Hutchinson said.
It’s generally thought that men who are sexually abused are more likely to become sexual perpetrators, while women who are sexually abused seldom go on to be perpetrators but often are victims again, Hutchinson said.
Also, she said, boys who watch their fathers abuse their mothers are 100 times more likely to be abusive to women than men who didn’t see their fathers abuse their mothers.
It’s perpetual violence, Hutchinson said.
Not ‘black or white’
Dan Monnat, another Wichita defense lawyer with extensive experience, said when asked about the legal issues posed by the Gray and Robinson cases that he couldn’t help being philosophical.
“Nothing about the criminal justice system is black or white,” Monnat said. “The system is filled with people – accusers, witnesses and defendants – who ordinarily are neither all good nor all bad. … Can a murderer also be a victim? Yes. Do people sometimes lie about having been a victim? Yes.
“There is no category of crime or person beyond complexity or question, which is why we have to presume every accused person innocent and test all accusations by the highest standard of proof.”
Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or email@example.com.
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The Wichita Eagle – By Tim Potter