Details of Disappearance
In 2003, Tiana resided with her twelve- and fourteen-year-old sisters, her aunt, Tamara Lynette Robinson, and Robinson's two-year-old daughter in an apartment complex in the 4400 block of west Avalon Avenue in Fresno, California. The three girls had moved in with Robinson in 2002, after their mother lost her job and couldn't afford to take care of them any longer.
On the afternoon of September 8, Robinson asked her sister-in-law to babysit the girls while she ran errands. Tiana's sisters arrived at their aunt's home without Tiana, and said she was out of town. That evening, Robinson came to sister-in-law's home, became upset and asked where Tiana was. Her sister-in-law said they should begin searching for her or contact the police.
Robinson reported Tiana missing at 1:30 a.m. on September 9, saying she'd last seen her at 7:30 a.m. the previous day. She said Tiana had a history of running away and didn't want to live with her.
Only hours after the report was made, authorities arrested Robinson and charged her with two county of felony corporal injury to a child and one count of child endangerment. Court documents indicated both Tiana's sisters had been severely beaten and one them told her school vice principal Tiana was dead. Police stated publicly that they also suspected Robinson of murdering her missing niece. She was not accused of abusing her own daughter, however.
When interviewed by the police right after her arrest, Robinson admitted Tiana had been missing for months. She said the last time she'd seen her niece was on July 11. She said Tiana caused many problems for her and described her as a problem child and her sisters as liars, and insinuated that one of Tiana's sisters had hurt or killed her after a fight about physical exercises.
Investigators received information from an undisclosed source that Tiana did not disappear in September 2003, but was in fact beaten to death by her aunt in July or August 2003. Her body was allegedly disposed of in a trash bin about a week after her death and would have been taken from there to the American Avenue Landfill on American Avenue and Highway 145 in Fresno.
One of Tiana's sisters said she witnessed the crime, and both of them say they were forced to help dispose of the child's remains and clean the apartment of bloodstains. Robinson then allegedly concealed Tiana's disappearance for the rest of the summer and only reported her missing after relatives began asking about her.
Tiana had regular doctor's appointments so her thyroid condition could be monitored; she missed an appointment on July 7 and the doctor's office was unable to get in touch with Robinson for a week. Robinson finally contacted them on July 14 and said Tiana was back in her mother's care. That same day, Tiana's sisters attended a birthday party without her, something their friends found odd, since the three sisters were always together.
Tiana's sisters started the school year in late August, but Tiana never showed up for her fourth-grade classes at Toby Lawless Elementary School. Robinson had completed school emergency contact cards for the two older girls, but not for Tiana, and she didn't list her as a sibling on her sisters' cards. When Robinson filled out forms for welfare, she named her daughter and Tiana's two sisters as dependents but wrote that Tiana was going to go live with her mother.
Authorities spent two weeks searching a local landfill for Tiana's remains, but did not find them. Over a year after the child was reported missing, Robinson was charged with murdering her. At her trial, both of Tiana's sisters testified against her.
They stated on the day their sister died, they saw their aunt strip Tiana down to her underwear, confine her in a hot garage without water for approximately half an hour, slam her head against a wall, and severely beat her with items including a baseball bat, a meat tenderizer, a curtain rod and a vacuum cleaner hose until the child collapsed and stopped breathing.
Robinson attempted CPR, but was unable to revive Tiana. She made her nieces dress the body and put it in a sleeping bad and kept the body in the apartment for a week before disposing of it. She wrapped Tiana's body in plastic bags, put it in the apartment complex dumpster and poured bleach on it to disguise the odor.
Robinson denied having killed or intentionally harmed her niece, but in 2006, she was convicted of second-degree murder and felony child abuse. She was acquitted of child endangerment. Robinson was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, with credit given for the three years she'd already served in jail awaiting trial; she could have faced a maximum of 22 years to life. She had no prior criminal record.
Tiana's remains have never been found, but foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.