Why the Shanquella Robinson Murder Case is Stuck

  • The death of Shanquella Robinson, 25, in Mexico six months ago remains mired in mystery.
  • She was seen being beaten in a video online, but the FBI has ended its investigation.
  • Her family is calling on the Biden administration to intervene, seeking the extradition to Mexico of an American suspect.

For the family of Shanquella Robinson, the past six months have brought nothing but anguish.

The 25-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, had traveled to Mexico with six university friends on October 28, 2022, for a short vacation.

The next day Robinson was found unconscious in the living room of a rented villa in San José del Cabo, a resort city on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. She died that afternoon.

According to her father, Bernard Robinson, some of her friends said she had succumbed to alcohol poisoning. But an autopsy released in November found that his daughter had died of “severe spinal cord injury and atlas luxation,” a condition where unstable or excessive movement is present in the first two vertebrae of the neck, 15 minutes after being injured.

A 20-second video began circulating online five days later that showed a woman, identified as Robinson by her family, being repeatedly punched and kicked by another woman. A man standing nearby can be heard saying: “Quella, can you at least fight back?”

The clip went viral, with the hashtag #justiceforquella trending on social media. It was then that her family’s quest for the truth—and justice—began. Yet they are still waiting. Why?

Shanquella Robinson Murder Case
A Newsweek photo illustration representing the Shanquella Robinson murder case. The 25-year-old died in mysterious circumstances in Mexico.

Dashed Hopes

Robinson’s mysterious death and the video resulted in an investigation by authorities in Mexico as well as the FBI.

Her family have continued to demand justice for her and a letter sent from their attorney to President Joe Biden in March called on him to do more, and most importantly find those responsible for her alleged murder.

Attorney Sue-Ann Robinson, who is representing the family, has publicly called for a greater examination into the circumstances of the death.

Despite the pleas from the family, the FBI and federal prosecutors announced this month that they had completed their investigation and that they would not be pursuing criminal charges.

“As in every case under consideration for federal prosecution, the government must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a federal crime was committed. Based on the results of the autopsy and after a careful deliberation and review of the investigative materials by both U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, federal prosecutors informed Ms. Robinson’s family today that the available evidence does not support a federal prosecution,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of North Carolina said in a statement.

This came months after local Mexican prosecutor Antonio López Rodríguez announced that the case was being investigated as a homicide, calling for the extradition of an American citizen allegedly involved.

In November 2022, the mystery over the case had deepened as Mexican police shared a new report contradicting the initial autopsy. They said that Robinson may have been alive for several hours and received care from a doctor before authorities arrived and pronounced her dead. The doctor told authorities that Robinson’s friends had insisted she be taken care of in the house instead of going to hospital.

“This case is fully clarified, we even have a court order, there is an arrest warrant issued for the crime of femicide to the detriment of the victim and against an alleged perpetrator, a friend of her who is the direct aggressor,” state prosecutor Daniel de la Rosa Anaya told ABC News at the time.

“Actually it wasn’t a quarrel, but instead a direct aggression. We are carrying out all the pertinent procedures such as the Interpol alert and the request for extradition to the United States of America. It’s about two Americans, the victim and the culprit.”

Andre Uter, a representative of the Frontline Law Firm, founded by Sue-Ann Robinson, told Newsweek why the family continues to campaign for diplomatic intervention.

“What happened to Shanquella is on video, she was brutally attacked and beaten while naked by one of the travel mates while we can hear audio of others laughing and watching,” he said.

“[The family] are still pushing for a high level of diplomatic intervention in order for the extradition of the aggressor identified by Mexican authorities to move forward. This requires the Department of State to approve the request made by Mexican authorities in order for that process to move forward.

“The FBI has publicly advised that the case is closed but has refused to release the associated records, claiming that the case isn’t officially closed.

“They advised the family that they are still working to translate documents from Mexican authorities in Cabo into English. These are just more red flags for the family in regard to this investigative process by the FBI.

“Attorney Sue-Ann Robinson went on a fact-finding mission to Mexico and was in direct contact with Mexican authorities, who shared some of their investigative files as well as relayed that the case is a high priority for them and they had completed and sent all the paperwork necessary for an extradition request to Interpol and the FBI.”

Shanquella Robinson’s mother, Salamondra Robinson, has complained about the efforts being made by the FBI in the investigation.

Sharing a picture of herself and her daughter on Instagram on December 3, she wrote: “Enough is not being done by the FBI to put the individuals who attacked Shanquella behind bars. I’m just trying to wait for somebody to be arrested. The FBI is not telling anything as of right now.

“Shanquella’s attackers looked me right in my face and told me there was no fight that happened in Cabo Mexico. I believe they are on the run.”

The Tangle over Extradition

One of the ongoing questions in the investigations has been around the potential extradition of an American citizen to Mexico.

Newsweek spoke to Jacques Hartmann, a professor in Law at the University of Dundee, Scotland, about the complexities of extradition and how it applies to Robinson’s case.

“International law prevents states from enforcing their laws abroad. This, among others, means that Mexico cannot arrest people in the US,” he said.

“Extradition is the formal process where one country asks another country to return a person in order to stand trial (or to serve a sentence).

“There is no general obligation to extradite in international law and an obligation to extradite must therefore be established in a treaty. Mexico and the US have long had such a treaty. The first extradition treaty was established in 1892. This treaty was superseded by another treaty from 1978, which was amended in 1997.”

He added that within that treaty, murder remains the first extraditable offense, so would apply in Robinson’s case.

He also spoke about what would follow if America agreed to cooperate with Mexico on its pursuit of extradition.

Hartmann said: “After this person has been located and arrested in the US, the case enters a judicial phase. During the judicial phase, a court will determine whether the extradition request meets the requirements of the 1978 treaty.

“If the court rules that extradition may be granted, the case enters the executive phase. Both the judicial ruling and the executive decision to surrender may be subject to multiple levels of appeal.”

Paul Arnell, associate professor at Robert Gordon University, said that political issues can interfere with the extradition process, even though the U.S. and Mexico are allies.

“Political concerns can affect the decision to request an individual and the decision whether or not to accede to hand the person over. The process is therefore somewhat dependent upon the overall relations between the countries. If, say, Mexico has refused to send persons to the U.S. then in turn the U.S. may act similarly,” he told Newsweek.

He added that while the FBI has closed its investigation, it does not mean there is no chance of an American being extradited.

“If the requested person had been prosecuted in the US then yes, she could not be extradited, regardless of whether she was convicted or acquitted,” he said.

On the other hand, Hartmann said he believed the chances of the wanted American being extradited were very slim.

“There is no obligation to extradite U.S. nationals to Mexico. A trial in the U.S. is not mandatory. Nor do criminal proceedings even need to be initiated,” he said.

Regarding the family’s plea for action, Hartmann suggested there was little that they could do without support at a higher level.

“There is very little action that the family can take to force an extradition, as this is a decision between sovereign states,” he said.

A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek: “The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. The Department supports a thorough investigation into the circumstances of this incident and is closely monitoring local authorities’ investigation.

“The Department does not provide confirmation of or commentary on investigations due to privacy and law enforcement considerations. As a matter of long-standing practice, the Department does not comment on extradition matters. We have no further comment at this time.”

Hartmann said that the family could consider looking at filing a civil lawsuit regarding the death.

While it is not clear whether the family will consider this avenue, the GoFundMe page that was set up following Robinson’s death has reached its goal.

Robinson’s sister, Quilla Long, set up the page for the family’s financial burdens and legal fees. After nearly 7,000 donations the family was able to exceed its $400,000 goal and continues to receive contributions to help the family.

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