Titusville police seek third arson suspect

Pair face judge on charges of trying to kill gang-rape witness

By Corey Schubert
FLORIDA TODAY

TITUSVILLE -- Police still are searching for one of three people who they believe set fire to a Titusville home after they were paid $200 to kill a witness in a gang-rape investigation.

Charles Robinson, 21, and Emma Miller, 18, both of Titusville, face felony charges of attempted murder, arson to an occupied residence, burglary to an occupied residence and possession of a fire bomb with intent to harm.

They were arrested late Wednesday after police said 35-year-old John Oliver of Titusville paid them to burn down the witness' home while the witness was inside early Sunday. Oliver remains at large.

Police said Oliver paid Robinson to throw Molotov cocktails -- beer bottles filled with gasoline and then ignited with a cloth wick -- into windows of the home. The homemade bombs missed their targets, however, landing instead on the front yard and front porch about 2:40 a.m. Sunday.

One woman was in the house at the time and fled without injury. The Titusville Fire Department extinguished the small fires.

Late Thursday, Miller was released from the Brevard County Detention Center in Sharpes on $10,000 bond, and Robinson remained at the jail on $50,000 bail.

Police said the murder plot paid for by Oliver -- also known as "Black Pop" -- was designed to kill a witness in a series of gang-rapes that was reported last month at three locations in Titusville.

In those incidents, a 16-year-old West Virginia girl reported being attacked by four men, who at times drugged her, over the course of four days. In connection with that case, Titusville men Jason Stewart, 29, and Brian Farmer, 18, are still wanted on charges of felony sexual battery by multiple perpetrators. Leon Burch, 22, of Titusville and Johnta Robinson, 24, of Cocoa were arrested days after the August incidents.

Burch was released on $25,000 bond on Sept. 6. Robinson remains in jail. Police had not publicly connected the two sets of suspects and had not established any family link between Johnta Robinson and Charles Robinson.

The girl was treated for minor injuries and released from Parrish Medical Center in Titusville last month.

"We're taking steps to ensure the safety of that victim and any other witnesses in that case," said Titusville Police Spokesman Todd Hutchinson.

During a court hearing for Robinson and Miller on Thursday, a Brevard County judge said he could only find probable cause at that time for their arrest on the arson charge due to a technicality. Defense attorneys argued investigators failed to directly state on a police report that the home had been occupied, but Titusville police are providing court officials with more information to clarify the issue.

Robinson's bond was higher, based on previous arrests on felony charges of armed robbery, burglary and grand theft.

The judge ordered Robinson and Miller to have no contact with anyone in the case or each other. Before being led from the courtroom, Robinson made lewd gestures with his handcuffed hands and spat a series of obscenities at spectators during an appearance before retired Judge Harry Stein.

Witnesses told officers who responded to a 911 call early Sunday that a white Plymouth Neon had stopped near the home, and a man had walked up to the house and started the fires, according to police reports.

Within minutes, police stopped a matching vehicle less than a mile from the home and found that Robinson, a passenger in the car, matched the physical description of the arson suspect. Officers also noticed a strong odor of gasoline on his hands, but he was released at that time until more evidence could be obtained, Hutchinson said.

Police said Miller drove him to the home to start the fires. Robinson later told police that Oliver threatened to harm Miller if he didn't set fire to the home, adding he "was scared" of burning it down, so he intentionally did not toss the fire-bombs inside, police reports said.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Titusville Detective Gary Boyer at (321) 264-7820.