Part of Amy Robinson's ordeal ended last week, when she pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawful conduct toward a child -- her children.
She originally faced charges of homicide by child abuse after a fire at her mobile home killed her son and daughter. She was sentenced to probation.
A story that began two years ago with accusations that Robinson had left her children alone while she left to smoke cigarettes turned into something quite different as her attorneys Beattie Butler and Marybeth Mullaney revealed that Robinson suffered from a nearly debilitating thyroid condition, as well as mental illness and mental impairment.
They said she confessed under duress to a crime she didn't commit after more than 10 hours of questioning by police.
Mullaney was assigned to the case when she was still with the Charleston County Public Defender's office. Even though she entered private practice in July, she stayed with the Robinson case, and continues to advocate for her client.
Mullaney laughs about it now, but right after her arrest, Robinson wrote a letter to The Post and Courier, saying that she didn't know who Mullaney was and wasn't sure she could trust her.
"Now we have a great relationship," Mullaney said.
Robinson called her several times Monday because she hadn't been able to get in touch with her mental health worker and didn't want to get in trouble.
She also texted Mullaney over the weekend to relay a much more difficult piece of news: Somebody had flicked a cigarette at her and called her a baby killer.
"I thought with the article and the news coverage that maybe she'd be vindicated and that everybody blaming her would end," she said. "It's sad to me … that a lot of people didn't get it."
Defending the innocent
One thing that it may be difficult for a lot of people to understand is why someone would confess to a crime that she didn't commit.
It's not a surprise to Mullaney, or to false-confession expert Saul Kassin, distinguished professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, with whom Mullaney consulted on the case.
Mullaney described a pattern of intimidation by police investigators.
"As a mother and a human being, I still cannot believe that they (police) came to the funeral with a camcorder and videotaped her over their coffins."
Robinson has found some parenting classes at Burke High School and is in the process of enrolling, Mullaney said. That's step one in a long journey to getting her other children back. Mullaney is also working with her to get visitation rights with her oldest daughter.
"People always ask, as a public defender, how do you represent people that may be guilty," Mullaney said. "To me, it's the people that may be innocent that are the hardest to represent."
Reach Digital Editor Melanie Balog at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5565.