Grace Robotti took the stand in her own defence Thursday and described herself as a doting great grandmother, driven to kill by fear.
Robotti, 67, was the first witness called Thursday as her lawyer James Pennington launched her defence against the charge of second-degree murder, and her testimony was a stark contrast to what’s previously been detailed in court.
How she killed Roxanne Louie on Jan. 4, 2015 — the 26-year-old mother of her great-grandson— has been established by Crown counsel in the last two weeks of trial.
Robotti and Louie had argued, and then their disagreement became physical. At some point Louie grabbed a 10-inch pry bar and intimidated Robotti with it.
With the assistance of her brother Pier, she turned things around. Louie, who was five-foot-three and 130 pounds was held down by Pier while Robotti repeatedly hit her. Louie sustained a minimum of 26 wounds to her head that proved to be fatal.
“I didn’t intend to even… seriously hurt her,” Robotti told jurors. “I was just afraid… it was just me or her. I was in a panic.”
They packed up the young woman and Pier dumped her down an embankment. For the better part of the following week, Robotti tried to hide her actions.
Pier, Robotti said, wanted to call the police right away, but she convinced him to hide her actions to protect the child.
“Based on what (Louie) told me about her life I was terrified he would end up with (Louie’s mother) … and she wouldn’t want that,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking about what would happen to me… if I can get him to my daughter and granddaughter then it will be OK.”
Speaking in her own defence, Robotti said that she was normally soft spoken and, over the course of many years, supported Louie who was prone to histrionics, being shrill and a wide array of unusual behaviours.
She told jurors she did Louie’s laundry, bought her groceries, drove her around and even encouraged her to go to school, caring for her great-grandchild so she could focus on her studies while she lived in Penticton.
Louie moved to Vancouver halfway through 2014 and even then, Robotti said, she still took care of the three-year-old child for weeks at a time.
Louie’s erratic behaviour hit peak levels in the early hours of Jan. 4, 2015, Robotti said, when she questioned her about comments made in regard to how she cared for her great-grandchild.
Louie, she said by way of example, would get an idea and pick at Robotti about it. She would say she gave her great-grandchild candy and that caused cavities. Robotti said she would never give the boy candy.
She said that Louie would complain about the clothes she bought the boy, noting they were too small.
Sometimes these conversations would escalate to name calling, and Robotti claimed she could defuse them easily.
One thing Louie said, however, caused her enough upset that she confronted the young mother with it.
Louie had been making comments about the way Robotti held the child, with her hands under his bottom. It went on for a couple months, died down and then started again.
“Her comment bothered me… her comment about (the child). I know her history … things she told me … and I know strange things come out,” said Robotti, indicating she wanted to clear up any misperceptions.
So on the night of Jan. 4, 2015, Robotti said that she pulled out pictures from a child safety site that showed that having hands under a child’s bottom while you are piggy backing them is normal and safe.
Then things went awry, she said.
“I know you have issues but you can’t put these issues on (the child),” Robotti said she remembered telling Louie.
Louie, Robotti testified, then lost her temper.
“She started yelling at me and saying I’m a stupid old woman and she was bringing up everything,” said Robotti, telling jurors that Louie that night blamed Robotti for breaking up her relationship with Robotti’s grandson as well as her issues with the candy and clothes.
As the argument escalated, Robotti said, Louie got ahold of the 10-inch pry bar.
Robotti told the court she didn’t think Louie was going to hit her, but she was pacing and yelling and her pleas to be quiet for the sake of the child fell on deaf ears.
At some point, Louie threw the prybar and the situation became, from Robotti’s recollection, “scary, out of control.”
“At that point I though, ‘Oh my god,’” Robotti said. “She had pitched things at me before .. magazines, and a binder.”
This thing, however, was different as it put a hole in the wall.
Louie picked it up at some point and Robotti then tried to remove it from her hand.
When Robotti grabbed her arm, Louie grabbed her hair and the fight moved into another room and proved fatal.
Robotti also said she thought Louie was nice but not very worldly.
“She was naive and it was sometimes like (sic) talking to a teenager, a young teenager,” described Robotti.
Robotti, who grew up in Ontario, is the eldest of three children and attended York University where she received a Bachelor of Education.
She says she was excited about being a great-grandmother and was at the hospital when Louie gave birth.