The Justice Files: Mother fears her own daughter

Justice Files

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Connie Hillenbrand is torn about her daughter’s future.

In 2002, Jennifer Robinson pleaded guilty but mentally ill. A year earlier, she was arrested and charged for murdering her six-month-old son.

Now Robinson’s up for parole with the board of pardons but her own mother isn’t sure she’s ready to rejoin society.

At Robinson’s recent parole hearing, she described her early life and how it shaped her thinking.

“My severe overbite was a factor,” she told the hearing officer. “I was severely bullied in school”

That was just the beginning. Her mom said it got worse. When she turned 7 years old, Hillenbrand discovered her then-husband was sexually molesting her. He was jailed and they divorced and she left with the children.

Her mother said those were some of the issues her daughter faced early on in life.

“I do not want to sit and say, to point fingers that any one person is to blame,” said Hillenbrand. “It is basically everything coming together the way it did.”

Robinson has been in prison for nearly twenty years after killing her six-month-old son in 2001.
It happened while she was staying at a friend’s home in Ogden. She was going through a rough patch in her life.

She was a single parent trying to raise a daughter but she gave it up for adoption according to her mother.
About 4-years later she gave birth to a son, Nathaniel. But in Robinson’s mind, she told the hearing officer his future didn’t look promising. She said Nathaniel also had a deformed jaw much like her.

“He had that too,” she said. “And my thinking at the time was, one of the things I was thinking is, I don’t want him to go through the bullying that I went through.”

Robinson told the hearing officer, she planned it to be a murder-suicide because she had become a burden to everyone.

“I was going to suffocate him and then go upstairs and get, one of the people I was living, get their morphine and swallow two bottles of it,” Robinson said.

She suffocated her son and when she went upstairs to get the morphine, her friend woke up and she couldn’t carry out her plan.

There were competency issues as the case continued in the Ogden court system. But eventually the court found her mentally fit to face the charges. In the end, she pleaded guilty but mentally ill and went to prison.

“I lost my daughter and I lost my grandchild all in the same day,” said a tearful Hillenbrand.

Nearly twenty years later, she is up for parole, again. In the past, she failed to convince the parole board that she was mentally sound.

But her mother said her daughter hasn’t changed. Hillenbrand said she still shows signs of violence and has made death threats against her.

“I don’t know how she’s going to be able to function well in society coming out of twenty years of incarceration,” said Hillenbrand. “I feel like she hasn’t gotten the proper care and treatment in those twenty years.”

Robinson told the hearing officer that she will never have children again. She said she will undergo a medical procedure that is similar to sterilization. During her time in prison, Robinson claimed she had received mental health treatment, undergone anger management classes to help her cope with stress.

“(I’ve learned) taking a time out, getting away from anger and frustration,” she said. “I’m getting away. Like if it’s another inmate, I just walk away and tell them I need some time.”

But once outside of prison, her mother said it will be different because she will be on her own and will snap at a moment’s notice.

“It’s so difficult to love someone so much and at the same time being so scared of them and so afraid that they’re going to hurt somebody else,” said Hillenbrand.

The mother did not attend the hearing because she didn’t want to re-live that day in 2001. But she has been on record with the parole board expressing her position.

Hillenbrand said mental illness is an issue many families face. She said if anyone senses there’s a problem with a loved one, get help quickly.

There are many resources for those seeking help. Nami of Utah is associated with the national alliance on mental illness. Hope4Utah offers a comprehensive list of Utah mental health agencies throughout the state.

Meanwhile, it could two-to-three weeks before the board of pardons determines Robinson’s future.

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