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Wayne Cordell MITCHELL





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Rape - Abuse
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: September 10, 1997
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1978
Victim profile: Robin Little, 18 (his wife)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on December 8, 1999

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

opinion J-89-2005 concurring opinion J-89-2005

Wayne Cordell Mitchell and Robin Little met and began dating while the two were students at Schenley High School in Pittsburgh. Entries from Robin’s diary, which were admitted at trial over Mitchell’s objections, chronicled their volatile relationship and Mitchell’s violent behavior toward her. Mitchell and Robin often argued and, in September 1996, Mitchell threatened to kill her, if she ever left him.

The couple’s son Malik was born in January 1997, and the two were married in April 1997, when Robin was eighteen and Mitchell was nineteen. Notwithstanding the marriage, Robin continued to live apart from Mitchell with her mother, Debra King, on Hamilton Avenue in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, until Mitchell came to stay with them in the late spring of 1997.

Mrs. King testified that she often heard Robin arguing with Mitchell on the phone about his drinking, smoking, and failure to get a job, as well as the lack of time he spent with the baby and her.

Mrs. King testified that in June 1997, she came home to discover holes in the wall of her living room. Robin told her that Mitchell and she had gotten into a fight and that he had punched the wall. Fearing further violence, Robin ended the relationship in July 1997, telling Mitchell to leave.

That same month, Robin took Malik and moved to her brother’s home in Lancaster. During that time, Robin told her sister-in-law, Timberlin King, that she feared Mitchell, and believed that one day he would kill her. Because she was homesick, however, Robin returned to Pittsburgh in August 1997, and moved back into her mother’s Hamilton Avenue home. 

On September 1, 1997, Mitchell was working at the People’s Natural Gas Company near Robin’s home when he telephoned her. During their conversation, Robin asked to use Mitchell’s bus pass. He told her that she could use it, but had to come to People’s to get it.

After her arrival at People’s, the two began discussing a man named Brian, whom Robin was seeing. Robin told Mitchell that she and Brian had engaged in sexual relations.

Mitchell became angry and dragged Robin into a supervisor’s office and raped her. As Robin screamed and begged him to stop, he threatened that if she continued screaming or told anyone about the rape, he would “snap her neck.” Mitchell finally let Robin go and returned to work.

Later that evening, Mrs. King drove Robin to the Pittsburgh Zone 5 Police Station where she reported the attack. Mrs. King then took Robin to Magee Women’s Hospital for an examination. Hospital personnel prepared a rape kit, and when Robin returned home, her mother took pictures of the bruises on her arms and thighs.

While Robin was at the hospital, the police went to Mitchell’s address and arrested him. After waiving his Miranda rights, Mitchell agreed to have his statement taped and admitted to Wilkinsburg Police Detective Doug Yuhouse that he had raped Robin.

Although Robin initially reported the rape to the Pittsburgh Police, it was later determined that the incident occurred just outside the city-limits of Pittsburgh in neighboring Wilkinsburg. Therefore, the rape investigation was turned over to the Wilkinsburg Police.

Detective Yuhouse noted that Mitchell was cooperative and did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol when he made his taped confession. Mitchell was charged with rape, terroristic threats, unlawful restraint, and simple assault for the September 1 attack on his estranged wife. He was arraigned and remained in jail pending a preliminary hearing, which was scheduled for September 9, 1997.

On September 4, 1997, while Mitchell was still in jail awaiting his preliminary hearing, Robin filed for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order. The court granted her petition entering a ten-day temporary order directing that Mitchell have no contact with Robin pending a full hearing on the matter, which was scheduled for September 10, 1997.

Upset over what was happening, Mitchell called Sheila Britton, the former director of a college-counseling program at Schenley High School, where both he and Robin attended. Mitchell first met Ms. Britton through school, and remained in contact with her even after Mitchell transferred out of Schenley and Ms. Britton was no longer employed by the Pittsburgh School Board.

After graduation, Mitchell had several conversations with Ms. Britton, and she was aware of the couple’s problems. In fact, Mitchell called Ms. Britton from jail after he was arrested for raping Robin on September 1, 1997. Robin also called Ms. Britton prior to the preliminary hearing to ask for advice on whether she should drop the charges. Robin told Ms. Britton that she was afraid Mitchell would retaliate if she pursued a PFA order against him.

At the trial of this case, the court allowed Ms. Britton’s testimony concerning her conversations with both Robin and Mitchell over the defense’s objection that they were privileged communications. Mitchell remained in jail on the rape charges until his scheduled preliminary hearing on September 9, 1997.

At that hearing, Mitchell waived the charges to court in exchange for a nominal bond, with a condition that he seek immediate in-patient treatment for alcohol abuse at St. Francis Hospital. Mitchell signed the right-to-preliminary-hearing waiver form and his next court appearance was scheduled for October 27, 1997.

Robin and her mother were present at the preliminary hearing and thus aware of this arrangement. Robin agreed believing that Mitchell’s hospitalization would protect her from him. At trial, the defense claimed that Mitchell reported to St. Francis as required, but was immediately released; whereas the Commonwealth claimed that he never reported to the hospital.

Regardless, Mitchell was never admitted to the hospital for treatment on September 9, 1997 as required by the agreement. Instead, he went home and began calling Robin.

During the afternoon of September 9, 1997, Robin reported to her mother that Mitchell was out of jail, that he was never admitted to the hospital for alcohol treatment, and that he had called her several times. Mitchell continued to call until he convinced Robin to allow him come to her home.

After his arrival at 4:15 p.m., the conversation quickly turned to Brian, the man Robin was seeing. Mitchell became angry when Robin indicated that Brian was better than Mitchell. The couple argued until Mitchell left the home shortly after 6:00 p.m.

Mitchell later confessed to Detective Dennis Logan that he went out that evening with friends and had “a couple of drinks.” At some point during the evening, he called Robin and continued to argue with her over the phone.

When he returned home at 1:00 a.m. on September 10, 1997, Mitchell called Robin, apologized, and convinced her to let him come to her home again, so that they could talk about their son.

Mitchell called Ms. Britton at approximately 1:00 a.m. and angrily told her several times that he was going to Robin’s house to kill her. He said Robin had “disrespected” him and he repeated his threat several more times even though Ms. Britton told him that going after Robin would not resolve anything. Mitchell replied that he was going to dress in black, go to Robin’s home, and “do what he had to do.”

Ms. Britton told Mitchell just to go to bed. When he abruptly ended the conversation and hung up, she tried to call back, but Mitchell’s mother answered. When Ms. Britton explained why she was calling Mitchell, his mother dismissed her concerns and told her that she did not have time to worry about it, so Ms. Britton gave up. Ms. Britton could not call Robin because she did not have her number.

At trial, Ms. Britton testified that during her conversation with Mitchell, he did not slur any of his words and he spoke in coherent sentences. Mitchell later told Detective Logan that instead of going to bed, he walked to Robin’s home. When he arrived at 1:30 a.m., Robin was sitting on the porch with a man who quickly left after Mitchell said, “Who the f--k is this?”

Mitchell argued again with Robin about her seeing anyone else. He punched Robin in the face and stomach, causing her to fall against the door. When she tried to run, Mitchell grabbed her and said he would stop hitting her if she walked with him. When she resisted, Mitchell dragged her toward an empty lot near her home and continued to punch her as she tried to break free.

At that point, Robin screamed for help, yelling, “He’s going to kill me.” Mitchell put a hand over Robin’s mouth and continued to drag her. As they passed a house, Mitchell saw a knife lying on a porch.

At first, he walked past the house, but then stopped and punched Robin several more times, temporarily disabling her while he returned to the porch to get the knife. When Robin attempted to pull herself up off the ground, Mitchell pushed her down and stabbed her in the stomach.

Then, Mitchell removed Robin’s clothes, wrapped his hands around her neck, and raped her, first vaginally and then anally. When Robin vomited blood, Mitchell wiped her mouth with a rag and continued raping her. When he finished, he turned her over and stabbed her multiple times in the neck.

Mitchell then took Robin’s clothing, the knife, and the bloody rag, and threw them into a sewer on nearby Kelly Street. He later remarked to Detective Logan that because he had worked as a security guard, he knew not to leave behind any evidence.

He also explained that he left her body naked because “if she wanted to f--k everybody, now everybody could see her f--king body.” Mitchell called Ms. Britton again at 4:00 a.m. When she asked about Robin, he told her, “Robin Little is no more.” He also told Ms. Britton that he was going to his uncle’s home so that he could establish an alibi, and that he planned to appear at the PFA hearing as scheduled, knowing that she would not be there.

In his confession to Detective Logan, Mitchell never mentioned his phone call with Ms. Britton, but instead indicated that he immediately went to bed upon returning home. Mitchell admitted, however, that when he got up later that morning, he took the clothes he had been wearing, including a black Steelers’ football shirt, black pants, a black tank top and black boots, put them in a garbage bag, and threw them into an abandoned house. Mitchell then went to court for his final PFA hearing.

At 9:00 a.m., Mitchell appeared in court for the hearing, but when Robin did not appear, the court dismissed the temporary PFA order. When Mitchell returned home, his mother told him that Robin was found dead. He later confessed to Detective Logan that he tried to act surprised and denied any involvement, but his mother was concerned and insisted that he go to St. Francis Hospital.

That same morning, Mrs. King was worried when she discovered that Robin was not home. After searching outside and becoming even more upset, she contacted police and explained the situation between Robin and Mitchell.

At approximately 10:00 a.m., an officer arrived at her home to take a report. Mrs. King was still talking to police, at 10:15 a.m., when the fire station located a block down the street from Mrs. King’s home received a call that a woman’s body was discovered in a nearby backyard. Several firefighters walked to the lot and saw the victim’s naked body lying face-up in the weeds.

When Mrs. King saw the police car and an ambulance arrive, she ran to the vacant lot to find her daughter’s body. Police later discovered Robin’s clothes in a sewer a few blocks away. Mitchell’s clothing was recovered from a vacant house in a nearby neighborhood. In the meantime, Mitchell took his mother’s advice and went to St. Francis Hospital sometime around noon on September 10, 1997.

As soon as Robin’s body was discovered, homicide detectives began looking for Mitchell and learned that he was at St. Francis Hospital. The police went to St. Francis’ emergency room, where they were informed that Mitchell was being evaluated and that they could wait for him.

When Mitchell was released fifteen or twenty minutes later, the detectives approached him in the waiting area and asked him if he would accompany them to their office. Mitchell agreed. He drove with detectives to the homicide offices where he made a full statement to Detective Logan admitting that he raped Robin Little on September 1, 1997, and that he raped her again and murdered her on September 10, 1997.

Detective Logan noted that Mitchell appeared in full control of his faculties and provided a remarkably detailed account of his turbulent relationship with Robin, as well as a full explanation of how and why he raped her twice and then murdered her.

Mitchell was charged with rape, terroristic threats, unlawful restraint, and simple assault for the September 1 sexual assault of Robin Little. Mitchell then was charged with rape, IDSI, and unlawful restraint for the September 10 attack of the same victim. Finally, Mitchell was charged with one count of criminal homicide for the September 10 strangulation and stabbing death of Robin Little.

The Commonwealth then filed and served a timely notice of its intention to seek imposition of the death penalty. Mitchell filed several pre-trial motions, including a motion to suppress his statements to police and a motion to sever the informations.

Hearings were held on these motions from September 27 to October 1, 1999. The only witness to testify at the suppression hearing was Detective Logan. Following completion of the proceedings, the court denied Mitchell’s suppression motion and his motion for severance.

On October 1, 1999, Mitchell appeared before the trial court and pleaded guilty to the rape, IDSI and unlawful restraint counts arising from the September 10 sexual assault. The court deferred imposition of sentence until after trial on the remaining charges, which commenced before a jury on October 4, 1999.

At trial, the Commonwealth presented evidence from a number of witnesses. Robin’s mother testified about the couple’s tumultuous relationship and read excerpts from Robin’s diary. Robin’s sister-in-law from Lancaster testified that Robin lived with her temporarily to get away from Mitchell. Ms. Britton offered a timeline of the events of September 9 to 10, and told about her conversations with Mitchell before and after the killing.

The Commonwealth also presented testimony from the doctor who examined Robin after the first rape, the nurse who prepared the rape kit, the police officer who took the initial report after the first rape, the police officer who took Mitchell’s first confession to the September 1 rape, and court personnel who explained that the PFA order was in effect when Robin was attacked and murdered.

Additionally, the Commonwealth offered testimony from a firefighter who initially found Robin’s body, police who investigated the murder scene, and Detective Logan, who took Mitchell’s confession to both rapes and the murder.

Finally, the Commonwealth presented testimony from Dr. Leon Rozin, the Chief Forensic Pathologist from the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office, who concluded that the cause of death was multiple stab wounds to the neck, as well as compression of the neck, more commonly referred to as strangulation, and the manner of death was criminal homicide.

At the close of trial, the jury found Mitchell guilty of first-degree murder as well as the remaining charges of rape, unlawful restraint and simple assault. Accordingly, as the Commonwealth was seeking the death penalty, the jury remained empanelled for a separate penalty phase hearing.

On October 13, 1999, after hearing additional testimony, argument from both the defense counsel and prosecutor, and instructions from the trial court, the same jury unanimously found two aggravating circumstances: Mitchell committed the killing while in the perpetration of a felony (rape) and Mitchell was subject to a PFA order restricting his contact with the victim when he killed her.The jury found no mitigating circumstances. Consequently, the jury sentenced Mitchell to death.

On December 8, 1999, the trial court imposed a sentence of death for the first degree murder conviction and consecutive terms of eight and one-half to twenty years of imprisonment for the September 1 rape, two and one-half to five years for unlawful restraint and one to two years for simple assault.



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