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Judge refuses to overturn Lockport man’s rape conviction

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas rejected an effort to cancel a Lockport man’s rape conviction Wednesday.

The judge said she lacked authority to overturn the jury’s findings on questions of witness credibility in the case of Dalvan H. Robinson, 51, of Pennsylvania Avenue, who is to be sentenced Aug. 19 for first- and third-degree rape and first-degree sexual abuse.

Defense attorney George V.C. Muscato said the evidence casts doubt on the 37-year-old victim’s story of being raped while she was groggy or unconscious from drinking.

But Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth R. Donatello noted that Muscato made the same arguments when he tried to get Farkas to dismiss the charges during Robinson’s trial in May, and the judge rejected them then, too.

The woman was the girlfriend of Robinson’s best friend, who broke up with her after the July 30, 2011, incident in a home on South Street in Lockport.

“I am physically and emotionally broken,” the woman told Farkas on Wednesday. She said she remembered “not knowing if my life would be taken as I lay there.”

Muscato said the woman drank voluntarily and woke up before the encounter with Robinson, which the defense argued was consensual. The attorney said the woman claimed there was a struggle, but she suffered no physical injuries.

The evidence “so overwhelmingly pointed to ‘not guilty,’ ” Muscato said. “The proof fails beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Donatello said the state Court of Appeals has repeatedly ruled that trial courts are not empowered “to put themselves in the role of the jury and come to a different conclusion than the jury.”

The jury deliberated for about 5½ hours over two days.

Sentencing was supposed to occur Wednesday, but it was postponed because of confusion over whether Robinson’s 2005 federal drug felony conviction counts as a felony under state law. If it does, Robinson would have to wait longer before being eligible for parole in the rape case.

Robinson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 50 kilograms of marijuana in that case. He and a woman picked up a shipment of between 60 and 80 kilos of the drug at Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Feb. 23, 2004. The pot was shipped on a Delta Airlines flight from Los Angeles. Robinson was sentenced to two years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

The maximum sentence for the rape is 25 years behind bars, and the victim asked Farkas to impose that, “so [Robinson] has a lifetime to think about how he disrespected me and my family.”