Nearly two years after 63-year-old Ernest Tolbert was shot and killed in York, authorities have issued arrest warrants for an imprisoned man who, police say, has confessed to the killing.
Jomar Antavis Robinson, 28, of York, will face murder, attempted armed robbery and firearm possession charges in connection with the Sept. 28, 2008, killing, said York Police Chief Bill Mobley.
Robinson already is serving a life sentence without parole for drug convictions in York County in early 2009, Mobley said. About that time, Robinson was a person of interest in the murder of 63-year-old Tolbert.
Tolbert, a longtime York city streets and sanitation worker, died when he was shot while working his second job at a coin laundry on Blackburn Street, police said. Tolbert was shot once through the abdomen and died at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill.
"Basically, it was a robbery that went bad," Mobley said.
Police allege Robinson acted alone in the murder and he took nothing from Tolbert. The investigation has focused on Robinson for the past several months, Mobley said.
"With five or six trips to the prison in the past few months, I think he just saw we wouldn't give up," Mobley said. "Eventually, he decided to do the right thing and give a statement.
"It's been a long investigation. The officers, I think, did an outstanding job investigating it."
Based on that confession and the investigation, warrants for Robinson were obtained Friday, Mobley said.
The first people Mobley told were Tolbert's family, who expressed relief Friday and praised the York Police Department for continuing to investigate until the case was solved.
"I am so pleased that finally we know who did this to Ernest," said Ezell Tolbert, Ernest Tolbert's wife. "I thank the police department for not giving up."
Shanterrica Tolbert, one of Ernest Tolbert's children, said family were never discouraged that Tolbert's killer would eventually be caught.
"When someone you love so much is murdered, and you don't know who or why, it made it even harder," Shanterrica Tolbert said. "This doesn't bring my father back, and the pain of his death is here every day.
"But it makes it a lot easier now that we know someone has been arrested."
Killing shocked city
The killing of Tolbert sent shockwaves through York, where Tolbert had been a revered city worker for almost 20 years and was known by name on his garbage route for his charm, easy-going demeanor, and kindness.
Tolbert also worked to make extra money cutting grass and cleaning launderettes -- including the one where he was killed. For more than 18 months, the community had wondered who killed Tolbert.
"I knew Ernest Tolbert personally, and I was proud to say he was my friend," said York Mayor Eddie Lee, who lowered flags at York City Hall to half-staff after Tolbert was killed. "Not a day has gone by that I didn't think about this case, and people in the community asked about it frequently.
"His family deserved to have this case solved, and it has been."
Lee praised the city's police for continuing to follow leads in Tolbert's death, even comparing the diligent work to the ongoing investigation of the unsolved slaying of former Mayor Melvin Roberts.
Roberts, 79, a lawyer in York for 55 years, was killed at his home Feb. 4. York police, along with other local and state police agencies, said this week they are continuing to investigate the Roberts' killing but have released no details.
The arrest in the Tolbert case shows, "if you commit a violent crime in the city of York, the police will collect evidence, pursue the case and make an arrest," Lee said. "This was good-old fashioned police work."
Robinson's criminal history in York County stems back to an arrest in 1999 for strong-armed robbery in York, according to a State Law Enforcement Division background check. He had been convicted of possessing crack with intent to distribute before the drug conviction last year that earned him a life sentence.
Robinson will be brought to York County from the McCormick Correctional Institution in McCormick, where he is serving his sentence to face the murder charges, Mobley said.
Mobley said he's grateful for the help from the SLED, S.C. Department of Corrections and York County's Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit for their help in this case.