James Robertson is inmate #322534 on Netflix’s new show ‘I Am a Killer.’ The show, which was released on August 3, aims to explore the experience of different murderers who are sitting on death row.
Robertson’s story takes up the entire first episode of the show, with interviews by his attorney, Mark De Sisto, and some of the staff members and inmates who have worked and lived with him as well.
Robertson’s episode is significant for the fact that he openly admits to a premeditated murder as a means to get out of the solitary confinement structure he was stuck in. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Robertson ‘Started Getting Locked Up’ When He Was 12 Years Old’
Robertson says, “I didn’t go to school a lot of times…I used to skip school all the time.” Robertson added that he did a variety of drugs, and that he started “getting locked up” at an early age, for smaller offenses like stealing bikes.
“I was 16, I was hanging out on the streets, and I would see some place it looked like I could break into to it…to get some money to pay for dope,” Robertson explained.
Robertson’s socioeconomic outline is further investigated in the pre-screening report, which plays a role in an inmates determination for death row. Mike Gottfried, the man responsible for doing the report, said, “Violence is a part of James Robertson because violence was a part of his upbringing…he explained that he got hit with switches…it was there, it was brewing.”
Gottfried continues, “There’s a pattern of violence with James Robertson that starts slowly…the interesting thing about this is that when he was charged, he wasn’t even turning 17 for ten days, and I wonder if this could’ve gone another way.”
2. Robertson First Went to Prison Shortly After His 17th Birthday for Burglary & Aggravated Assault
Shortly after his 17th birthday, Robertson went to prison for the first time, after an attempted burglary and assault. “Originally, I had a ten year sentence,” Robertson said, “Then something happened, some other guys killed [someone] and I got fifteen years for that.” Robertson added that he tried to escape another time, and received another 80 years of imprisonment for that.
Robertson admitted that he had a bad attitude, and would “stab dudes and stuff.”
By the time Robertson eventually made it to death row, he had reportedly earned over 100 years of accrued prison time.
3. In 2008, Robertson Strangled a Man Named Frank Hart to Death to Get Out of Close Management
After a series of aggravated assaults in prison, Robertson claimed that the prison “took everything from me…my TV, my property. Man, that shit’s torture.” Robertson was put into solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. “You just lose all motivation, man. You ain’t getting no sun, really,” he said. “The guards humiliate you all the damn time…they treat you like a bug or something.”
Robertson claimed that ‘he got mad’ and said ‘I’m going to go ahead and kill somebody’ so that he could get on death row, which would get him out of solitary confinement. “Believe me,” Robertson said, “It was premeditated all the way. I waited until the guards made their rounds…I knew I had a 25 minute window of opportunity.”
Robertson claimed the entire incident took about six minutes, in total, before Hart was dead. “I don’t feel bad about it,” he said, then laughed. “You think that’s really something, isn’t it?”
4. Robertson Actually Preferred Being on Death Row to Being in the Close Management System
Ann Attwell, a staff nurse at the correctional facility that holds Robertson, explained that Robertson preferred the setup of death row because there are less rules for a prisoner to follow. “In close management we deal with a lot of frustration,” she said on the show. “They sleep most of the day, but if you go by at night…they’re fighting with one another. You can hear them, all not long. From the moment that James entered prison, he did not like the rules and regulations of the penal system. He did not like the rules and regulations of close management.”
Attwell added, “He did, however, want death row. Their rules and regulations are very, very simple, and he could handle that.”
Attwell explained that the difference between death row and close management is like “the difference between the slums and Beverly Hills.” On death row, Robertson had his own television, his own bedspread, better food, an individual nurse to take care of him, and a generally more quiet atmosphere. “And surprisingly enough, they have this comaraderie that they’re all there together,” Atwell explained. “And in their mind’s eye, they know…that they’re going to be there for 25 years.”
5. Robert Lynch, Robertson’s Former Cell Mate, Called Him a ‘Piece of Sh*t’
To Netflix, Lynch said, “[Robertson’s] outlook is that if he thinks that he can do something to you and get by with it, he’ll do it. If he thinks that he can’t get away with it, he won’t. And to me, that’s a coward. His problem is his knife, his violence.”
“That’s his first thought,” Lynch continued. “He’ll get his knife about small things.” Lynch added that Robertson’s perspective of close management was ‘a cop out,’ and that if Robertson had simply behaved well he wouldn’t have stayed in close management. “I mean, you can come here and get better or you can come here and get worse,” Lynch said. “It’s up to you, really.”
Lynch argued that Robertson, who he called “Chickenhead,” is “never going to change.” “He will always be a threat,” Lynch argued.