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To control-freak Steve Colosi, wives were trophies, adornments to his 111-acre estate on Virginia's Eastern Shore and his 52-foot yacht. When his fourth wife left him, he arranged to have her beautiful face so disfigured that no other man would want her.
Robyn Lynn Rogers was alone in her office on the morning of July 20, 2000, when a man carrying a cup filled with lye walked in and threw it in her face. The chemical -- strong enough to burn through metal -- seared Robyn's face and eyes. It seeped down her throat and burned through her organs.
The willowy part-time model, who worked full-time as a rental agent in a Virginia Beach apartment complex, fell to the floor screaming. The vicious attack left the 29-year-old Eurasian beauty, the daughter of a career Navy officer and his Vietnamese wife – blind and horribly maimed.
Despite eight operations to save her life, including a tracheotomy that left her unable to speak, Robyn died three weeks later from her injuries. The lye had eaten into her aorta, causing her to bleed to death.
Robyn-- the mother of a 6-year-old son -- was convinced that her estranged husband, Stephano "Steve" Colosi Jr., 47, the wealthy owner of a Norfolk cement plant, was behind the attack.
"By the time I got to her bedside Robyn couldn't speak," said Michael Rogers, Robyn's father. "But she was able to write, and before she died Robyn wrote, 'My husband did this to me."
Robyn died on August 10, 2000. A few days later family and friends held a memorial service for her at the Virginia Beach Fellowship Church. Steve Colosi didn't attend.
A Stormy Relationship
Robyn met Colosi in the summer 1998, when she stopped for a red light next to his white Corvette convertible. They made eye contact, and the 6' 4" businessman persuaded her to give him her phone number. What Robyn had no way of knowing then was that Colosi, who had been married and divorced three times, had a long history of violence against women, including arrests for assault and making threatening phone calls to women.
Instead she was dazzled by his lavish lifestyle – his 111-acre estate, Oak Grove, in Cape Charles on Virginia' s Eastern Shore, and his 52-foot yacht, the Marlin' Darlin. He promised to care for her and her son, bought her a Jeep and paid for her breast augmentation surgery.
The handsome businessman swept her off her feet, and by Christmas they were engaged. But the relationship was stormy and Robyn, filled with second thoughts, broke off the engagement early in 1999.
"She was a feisty free spirit. Steve, didn't like that," said Robyn's father. Robyn's friends and family say Colosi was obsessed with controlling her. He wanted to know where she was at all times. If she just looked the wrong way he'd go into a jealous rage.
"To him Robyn was a trophy," said Rogers, and he wasn't about to let his trophy get away. So he promised to turn over a new leaf, and persuaded her things would be different.
On January 19, 2000, Robyn became Steve Colosi's fourth wife in a city hall ceremony. But she soon learned there was no new leaf. Instead, the relationship was even stormier than before.
"Colosi was more controlling now than ever," said Rogers. "He'd abused Robyn verbally before they were married. Afterwards, he abused her physically."
On a snowy January evening, just days after their wedding, a neighbor answered a knock on her front door to find a frightened and badly bruised Robyn shivering on her doorstep.
"You've got to let me in," she pleaded, desperation in her voice. "Steve's after me."
Robyn never lived with her husband again. She moved in with a girlfriend, then with her brother, Michael Jr. In April she filed for divorce, noting in her filing that she feared for her life.
Robyn landed a job as a rental agent and resumed her career as a model and actress. She was looking forward to filming a Harley Davidson commercial she had been cast in, and to seeing herself in a dramatic role she had filmed for an episode of the "The Prosecutors," a Discovery Channel series. By summer, she was dating.
Colosi, however, wouldn't let go. He hired a private detective to follow her. Then, Robyn's friends say, he stalked her himself, terrorized her in face-to-face encounters and threatening phone calls. And he vowed to destroy her if she didn't return to him.
He meant it. Colosi plotted to so deface her that no man would want her. He enlisted two of his cement company employees in his plot, Talib Spruill and Larry L. Davis. Both men had criminal records.
The day after Robyn died, police arrested Spruill and Davis on a belated tip from Colosi's bookkeeper, Debra Perry. Both were charged with murder. Investigators said it was Spruill, 25, who entered the rental officeand doused Robyn with the chemical solution. And they said it was Davis, 48, who supplied the caustic mixture and sent Spruill on his deadly mission.
On November 3, 2000, four months after Robyn died, Steve Colosi was arrested in Florida on a fugitive-from-justice warrant after a Virginia Beach grand jury indicted him in her death. He fled Virginia on his yacht but returned in shackles.
Colosi pleaded not guilty and was held in the Virginia Beach jail without bail. In August he went on trial in Virginia Beach Circuit Court accused of conspiracy to commit murder, solicitation to commit murder and aggravated malicious wounding. The star witnesses against him were hit men Davis and Spruill.
Facing life in prison, Davis and Spruill had cut deals with prosecutors. In exchange for his testimony against his former boss, Davis was given immunity from prosecution in Robyn's death, but was sentenced to seven years in federal prison after pleading guilty to unrelated gun charges. Spruill pleaded guilty to aggravated malicious wounding and was sentenced to 20 years in state prison.
Before calling Davis and Spruill to the stand, the prosecutor, Commonwealth Attorney Henry Bryant III, took time to paint a picture of Robyn's terror-filled last days and the events that led up to her death.
Among those who testified the first day was Colleen Hoggard, Robyn's long-time friend. Hoggard recalled a chilling message Colosi left on Robyn's answering machine - "I will kill you," he vowed. And he threatened Hoggard – "He told me I'd better watch my back."
Next to testify was Wendy Fitzsimmons, a 35-year-old Virginia Beach woman who had an intimate relationship with Colosi in 1999 "Steve would talk to me about Robyn," she said. "One time, he said he would have her killed and bury her on the [Eastern Shore] property. And he made a crack about where he could get some free concrete."
Another time, Colosi grabbed a gun and took pot shots at the carcass of a deer he found on his estate. Fitzsimmons recalled that as Colosi fired round after round into the dead deer he told her, "This is what I will do to Robyn.
Carolyn Prosise testified about the January night that she sheltered a bruised and battered Robyn after Colosi beat and battered her.
After the beating, Robyn moved in with Michelle Derusha who told the crowded courtroom that Colosi even terrorized Robyn's 6-year-old son. "He told him his mother might end up dead if she doesn't act the way she is supposed to act," Derusha said.
On the second day of testimony, Bryant put Todd Randall on the witness stand. He wiped away tears as he described what he saw when he visited Robyn in the burn center at MCV Hospital in Richmond.
"She was burned real bad," said Randall, 38, who was dating Robyn. He described her injuries: Burns on her forehead, lips and neck. Her eyes, he said, "looked like cue balls." What's more, she couldn't see and she couldn't speak.
For the first time jurors saw gruesome pictures of Robyn that were taken in the hospital. Projected onto a screen, the horrific images brought many in the crowded courtroom to tears.
Colosi's bookkeeper, Debra Perry, followed Randall to the witness stand. On the morning of the lye attack, she said, Spruill and Davis reported for work briefly and then left. But Perry didn't tell that to the investigators when they first came around asking questions.
And when they asked if she knew anyone who matched Spruill's description, she told them she didn't. She was being watched, she explained, by Davis who listened in whenever she spoke to detectives. "I was scared," said Perry. "What would be done to me if they learned I was the one who turned them in?"
She testified that the day after the attack, Colosi told her to write Davis a check for $5,500. It wasn't long after that she "knew that he had something to do with [the attack]," said Perry. She called police and told them everything she knew. Then she quit her job.
The hit men took the stand on day three, August 27. Spruill told how he walked into the Piper's Landing rental office where Robyn was working and asked if he could apply for a job. Before Robyn could answer, he tossed the plastic cup filled with lye in her face. He heard her scream as he ran to a getaway car. "It was constant, long and torturing," he said.
Davis testified that Colosi was obsessed with revenge. He talked about her "constantly and continuously," he said. And he wanted her to feel "the pain that he was feeling."
The lye was Colosi's idea, said Davis. Shortly before the attack, his boss gave him a brown bag containing the chemical. On the morning of the attack, the hit men met at Colosi's Norfolk concrete plant. There, Davis mixed the lye with water and handed the powerful solution to Spruill who headed for the apartment rental office while Davis drove back to his Norfolk home. After the attack, Davis said, Colosi told him. "It's over. I'm satisfied."
In his closing remarks, prosecutor Bryant characterized Colosi as a man caught up in a fatal obsession. His behavior progressed from surveillance to threats to violence, culminating in the vicious attack.
"He meant to disfigure and to destroy the person who this woman was," said Bryant. "In my 28 years of doing this, I don't know of a case more aggravated or more malicious than this one."
On the morning of August 30, Colosi took the stand in his own behalf. Under questioning from his attorney, Robert D. Eisen, he denied everything. During 70 minutes of sometimes tearful testimony, he testified that he'd never bought lye, never terrorized or intimidated Robyn.
His wife's friends were lying, he said. And he denied ever hiring Davis or Spruill to attack her.
Instead, he was devastated by her death. "I will never get over it," he told the court. "It's something I will always have to live with. I still can't believe it to this day."
In his closing remarks, Eisen attacked the deals the prosecution cut with Davis and Spruill. He called them "thugs," and criticized investigators for rushing to judgment, targeting his client and ignoring leads that pointed elsewhere.
"The defendant was selected, and then the facts were collected to make them fit the defendant," declared Eisen
The jury of four men and eight women began deliberating in the afternoon. The next day, Friday, they declared Colosi guilty on all counts.
The jurors recommended the maximum sentence for each count: Five years for criminal solicitation; 10 years for conspiracy; and life for aggravated malicious wounding.
Colosi then asked to be sentenced immediately. Judge H. Thomas Padrick obliged. Calling the case "one of the worst that I ever heard," the judge followed the jury's recommendations.
"The suffering of the victim in this case was beyond imagining," he said. Then he added an additional provision: No parole.
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