This week, Ernest Tolbert should be working his extra jobs, approaching age 70, to help pay for something that is worth all the sweat and long hours and weekends in a working life for any father – a daughter’s wedding.
The flowers, the rented hall and catered food, the horse and carriage that delivers the bride, the dress. All the stuff that Tolbert – a garbage man in York who worked extra jobs cleaning coin-operated laundries – wanted his youngest daughter to have.
“He was the greatest father in the world,” said Shanterrica Tolbert. “He always said he wanted to give me away at my wedding.”
Tolbert had worked multiple jobs for years so Shanterrica, called Terri by all who know and love her, could attend Winthrop University. Tolbert would dutifully drive from York to Rock Hill every Friday during his lunch hour to pay the bill. He would stand there, in his work clothes among the suits, and pull out $20 bills, $10 bills, sometimes even smaller bills. He beamed with pride and paid so a daughter – the first in her family to go to college – could dream of a better life.
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Then he would go back to work collecting garbage, cleaning streets and at night, cleaning the coin laundries for that extra money that he would put away for the college expenses and dream wedding of his baby daughter.
The dream ended when a career drug dealer and convicted felon just out of prison named Jomar Antavis Robinson broke into the laundry Tolbert was cleaning on Blackburn Street in York late on Sept. 28, 2008. Instead of stopping at a store down the street to buy a Coke, Robinson broke into the locked laundry to steal one.
Ernest Tolbert, 63 at the time, dog-tired, came out from cleaning the bathroom to find Robinson standing there, holding a gun.
Robinson shot Tolbert in the stomach and fled. Tolbert collapsed in front of the building and died in less than an hour.
So, at 7 p.m. Sunday, when Shanterrica Tolbert becomes Mrs. Robert Hall Jr., another relative will have to give her away.
“Because my father was murdered,” she said.
Still another relative will escort Shanterrica’s mother, Ezell Tolbert, to her seat because her husband was shot by a drug dealer too cheap to buy a soft drink.
Robinson was not caught that night in 2008. He eluded police for months that turned into a year and more. York Police Detective Billy Mumaw worked the case doggedly, hearing street talk about Robinson’s involvement. Police in York and agents with the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit worked the case, hearing from associates of Robinson in the drug trade that he had bragged about shooting Tolbert and not getting caught.
Finally, in March 2010, drug agents found Robinson outside some apartments in York, doing what he always did – selling dope.
“We were after him for a long time,” said Marvin Brown, commander of the county drug unit. “We believed he did the murder of Mr. Tolbert but hadn’t been able to get him yet.
“But none of the officers involved gave up. They kept after it.”
When the cops swooped in, Robinson fought and tried to flee. A gun and narcotics were found. Robinson finally was in jail. In April 2010, he was charged with murder. In 2011, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for all the drugs he had sold to kids, near schools.
In 2012, Robinson pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Ernest Tolbert and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
All told, Robinson is in prison for 11 felonies, from resisting arrest through the cocaine sales and manslaughter.
But even from prison, Jomar Robinson continues to haunt Shanterrica Tolbert.
Just weeks ago, Robinson filed a civil lawsuit claiming he should get a trial in the killing of Ernest Tolbert because he did not get proper legal representation when he pleaded guilty. He claims the search and seizure was illegal when he was arrested for selling drugs and fighting with cops.
On Tuesday, Robinson’s appeal – despite all courts beforehand saying the police search and arrest were legitimate – made it all the way to the state Supreme Court.
This week, as Shanterrica Tolbert prepares to walk down the aisle without holding her father’s arm, the highest court in South Carolina will have to decide if a person who has sold drugs since his teens and admittedly shot an old man should possibly ever have a chance to see daylight again. Decisions usually take months.
“Mr. Robinson received an appeal,” Shanterrica said, “but my father sure did not get an appeal. He received the death sentence that night.”
Somehow, the Tolbert family will make it through this week without their patriarch.
This was a garbage man who was so loved in York that, when he died in 2008, the city’s flags were flown at half-staff.
Old pictures of Tolbert will be on display at the wedding reception, and white doves will be released in his honor.
But Ernest Tolbert will not be able to toast his daughter and son-in-law, to beam with pride at a lifetime of work that paid for a beautiful wedding. Because he was shot down by a cheap drug dealer – for a Coke that cost a dollar.