- Courtesy photo Des Moines Register
- Rafael Robinson
926 Oak Ridge
Des Moines, IA
Case # 1996-32331
July 31, 1996
Case information compiled by Iowa Cold Cases volunteers
On July 31, 1996, Iowa 90 Crips gang member Rafael Robinson was shot multiple times in the back outside a public housing complex at 926 Oakridge in Des Moines, Iowa. Gunshots from more than one weapon were heard, but no one admitted witnessing the shooting.
The weather that day was not particularly hot for late July in Iowa, but the situation in the Des Moines gang world was boiling over. It was one of the most violent times in the city’s history.
Rafael Robinson’s death was part of an on-going dispute among gang members that began with the murder of 23-year-old Jody L. “Monster” Stokes outside the TNT Lounge on October 14, 1995.
Polk County in Iowa
Des Moines in Polk County
That killing set off a chain reaction of violence and death that involved Rafael Robinson, his cousin Royal Robinson, and his half-brother Timothy McCoy, III — as well as other Crips members and their extended families.
In May 1996, an Iowa 90 Crips member told FBI agents there was a contract on Robinson because the gang abided by Chicago rules of respecting rank, and Robinson — who was regarded as a lower-level soldier — did not stand up for the gang when a member was shot. Some also believed Rafael’s cousin Royal Robinson was involved in that incident.
The feud peaked on April 8, 1996 at about 5:25 p.m. when an innocent Des Moines bank executive — 42-year-old Phyllis Davis — was caught in the crossfire of a shootout between a dark-colored SUV and a brown Oldsmobile Cutlass during evening rush hour traffic at Ninth Street and University Avenue. An errant .22-caliber bullet hit Davis, who lost consciousness within seconds as the bullet pierced her lungs and aorta, and she died as her car rolled into the intersection.
Three occupants of the Oldsmobile Cutlass — Jermaine Allen, Vincent Cortez Brown, and Antonio Speed — were found guilty in Phyllis Davis’s murder.
Also convicted in the Davis murder was David Flores, a young man many in Des Moines believe is innocent because evidence against him was circumstantial and even insubstantial.
Flores was known to drive his girlfriend’s vehicle, a black 1995 Chevrolet Blazer with a gold grille, similar to the one described by some of the witnesses as being involved in the gunfight.
No murder weapon, no fingerprints and no eyewitnesses, however, could place Flores, then 19, at the murder scene.
For a time, the Polk County Attorney even dropped the charges, and on the day of the verdict the jury foreman said he believed Flores was not guilty.
David Flores grew up in the Homes of Oakridge area and was friends with murdered gang member Jody Stokes, but was not known to be a gang member himself.
He was advised not to take the stand in his own defense, and his girlfriend Tina — whom he would later marry in a ceremony at the Polk County Jail after his conviction — gave conflicting and incorrect information to the police that sealed Flores’s fate because she was afraid of retaliation against the one-year-old son they had together.
Many people, including Crips members, say that Flores was not involved in the Davis shooting and that Rafael Robinson was.
The primary evidence against Flores was that he was driving his girlfriend’s car that afternoon and it was similar to the dark SUV involved in the shoot-out. However, Rafael’s cousin Royal Robinson owned a 1986 dark blue Bronco SUV and one of the men convicted in the shoot-out said there was a second person in the SUV. Flores was alone at the time.
Also, there was testimony from three witnesses that the driver of the dark SUV was black; David Flores is a light-skinned Latino.
In addition, three people have identified Rafael Robinson as the shooter:
- fellow gang member Calvin Tyrone Gaines
- Jermaine Allen, who was feuding with Robinson and is in prison for Davis’s murder
- Robinson’s girlfriend at that time, Carla Harris, who told authorities he confessed to her in an April 8, 1996 phone call.
Rafael Robinson owned older-type guns, including .12-gauge and .22 caliber weapons similar to those used in the Davis shooting.
In December 2007 a Polk County judge agreed to hear Flores’s plea to reconsider his life sentence for murder. But in June 2008, when Flores’ case was pushed back yet again, Tina decided she had to move on and filed for divorce.
Fifth District Circuit Court Judge Don C. Nickerson ruled in late 2009 that David Flores was entitled to another trial because of new evidence and the suppression of evidence on hand during the first trial. There were questions about the quality of his legal representation as well.
If Rafael Robinson shot Phyllis Davis, he can never be brought to justice because he was a victim of murder himself.
However, David Flores and his family hope that a new trial will release him from jail for a crime they say he did not commit.
If you have any information about the murders of Rafael Robinson or Phyllis Davis, contact the Des Moines Police Department at 515-283-4811 or the Polk County Attorney.
Sources and References:
- “Seven people cast doubt on evidence that helped convict Flores,” Des Moines Register, Dec. 24, 2009
- “Interactive: Understand the case,” Des Moines Register, March 11, 2009
- “Third person disputes Flores’ role in shootout,” Des Moines Register, January 28, 2009
- “In prison, life tick, tick, ticks away for Flores,” Des Moines Register, December 22, 2008
- “New trial ordered in death that set off gang shootings,” Des Moines Register, December 18, 2008
- “Flores report’s merit debated,” Des Moines Register, July 15, 2008
- “The Flores case: Then and now,” Des Moines Register, June 29, 2008
- “Why a man serving life for murder could go free,” Des Moines Register, January 6, 2008
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