BANGOR, Maine — The sister-in-law of the Bradford man on trial for beating to death a Hudson man with a large crowbar testified Friday that Peter Robinson, 49, and Cheryl Robinson, 54, were nervous about and afraid of the victim and his family.
Peter Robinson, 49, is accused of killing David P. Trask, 71, on Nov. 12, 2011, in an alleged dispute over a right of way.
Robinson’s trial began Monday at the Penobscot Judicial Center. He testified Thursday that he acted in self-defense.
Mary Randall Arrant of Howland told jurors that as the former owner of a small store in Bradford, she knew the Trask family “by reputation.”
“I felt they were dangerous,” she testified.
She said that when it concerns hunting, the Trasks “go where they want to, when they want to and they don’t like to be told they can’t.” Arrant said she was concerned for the safety of her sister and brother-in-law because “they live in a fairly isolated area.”
Cheryl Robinson told the jury Friday morning that she and her husband bought the property in 2000 and wanted to create a sanctuary area for animals away from hunters and had posted their 250 acres. But after she learned in early summer 2011 that the victim had purchased an adjacent piece of property, she and her husband decided it was time to move.
She told jurors that the couple had begun making larger mortgage payments in an effort to pay down their loan in anticipation of selling their property on Bear Road. Cheryl Robinson said the decision to move was “heartbreaking.”
She testified that tensions began in 2000 shortly after the couple moved in. She said that George Trask, a brother of the dead man, threatened to kill her husband in a dispute over his hunting with dogs on the Robinsons’ land.
George Trask has not been called to testify in open court.
Cheryl Robinson told jurors that the victim and other members of his family did not want the cable gate that went across the shared right of way up and locked.
“They’d come in and take it down and leave it down,” Cheryl Robinson testified. “Many nights we had to go down and put it up.”
Weeping, she recalled the day her husband killed Trask.
“Pete came bursting in the door, saying, ‘Oh, my God. Oh, my God,’” she said. “He was down on his knees with his head in his hands. He was crying.
“He said something about David coming at him with a crowbar and that he’d tried to kill [Robinson]. He said he’d hit [Trask] really hard,” she said.
Under cross-examination by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, Cheryl Robinson said that she never had any “face-to-face contact” with the victim. She also said that she had never been threatened directly by a member of the Trask family.
When the prosecutor asked why she did not ask for a medical crew when she spoke to a dispatcher at the Penobscot Regional Communications Center in Bangor after her husband called 911, she said: “All I remember saying was I didn’t feel well and I didn’t want to talk to her.”
Before she took the stand, two of the victim’s brothers were asked questions about an alleged murder-for-hire plot before the jury entered the courtroom. Keith Trask, 68, and George Trask, 66, both of Corinth, on the advice of their attorneys, Hunter Tzovarras and Michael Rair, respectively, refused to answer questions about allegations that they hired a man to kill Robinson and dump his body at sea last year.
Defense attorney Thomas Hallett of Portland has stated in at least one court document that the two men and one of their wives hatched a murder-for-hire plot in the first half of 2012.
No one has been charged in the alleged scheme outlined in court documents. No one has been granted immunity from prosecution.
Hallett earlier this month subpoenaed the men and the woman as possible defense witnesses. Attorneys for the trio told Superior Court Justice William Anderson last week that if their clients were called as witnesses they would invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions. They did that Friday morning before the jury was brought into the courtroom.
Anderson said Friday that he would rule on whether the men could testify on Monday when they are scheduled to be called as witnesses for the defense.
The alleged plot came to the attention of police in May 2012 — about five months after Robinson was released on bail — when an inmate at the Penobscot County Jail told officials that he had heard “that a man named Peter Robinson would be arriving at the jail and that whoever beat him up while he was there would get money from the Trask family,” according to Hallett’s opposition motion. It is unclear from court documents exactly when the inmate received this information.
The defendant said he confronted Trask about his leaving a chained gate open that gave access to the road to their properties. He also described “years of harassment” by Trask family members over hunting on his posted land and disputes over the right of way.
“I told him, ‘We need you to put the gate up, Dave,’” Robinson testified, recalling the day he took Trask’s life 16 months ago.
“[Trask] said, ‘I’m going to kill you, you [expletives],’” the defendant told jurors Thursday.
Trask took off a glove and reached for what Robinson said he thought was a holster. It turned out to be a cellphone in a holder attached to Trask’s belt.
“He goes down and I see him going for his holster,” Robinson said. “I did one final blow because I thought he was going to shoot me.”
Robinson’s attorney asked him if he could have run away.
“No. All I could picture was him pulling a gun and shooting me,” Robinson answered.
The case is expected to go to the jury on Monday, Anderson said Friday.