5 years later, tributes for Autumn Pasquale continue as killer’s family faces new charges

By Matt Gray | For NJ.com

Autumn Pasquale would have been a high school senior this year. The Clayton 12-year-old was strangled to death in October 2012 and her body left in a recycling container.

Autumn’s death shook her hometown, prompted several lawsuits and inspired proposed legislation.

Her case has resurfaced in recent months after one of those involved in her death was charged in a home invasion and the house where she was killed became the target of a drug raid.

Autumn’s father, Anthony, took to Facebook at the start of this school year to reflect on his daughter’s legacy and wonder about the experiences she would have had in her senior year of high school.

Between the fifth anniversary of her death and her birthday a week later, October is always an especially difficult month for the entire family.

“I know it’s coming and I can’t stop thinking about it,” Anthony Pasquale said in October. “I can’t believe it’s been five years.”

Police remove Autumn Pasquale’s bicycle from the East Clayton Avenue home where she was strangled to death in October 2012. (Tim Hawk | For NJ.com)

All for a bike

Autumn was reported missing on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Her disappearance prompted a community-wide search effort.

Just hours after a community vigil was held to pray for her safe return, Autumn’s body was found in a blue recycling container on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 23.

Later that day, Justin and Dante Robinson were charged with killing Autumn. Her bike was found in the Robinson home and the recycling container that held her body was left by the curb at the house next door.

Justin Robinson walks into court before being sentenced in September 2013. (Tim Hawk | For NJ.com)

Justin Robinson took sole responsibility for Autumn’s death, pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and was sentenced to 17 years behind bars.

Dante Robinson pleaded guilty to a charge of obstruction in the case. He was sentenced to 6 months in jail in September 2013, but was released with time served. He had remained in a juvenile detention facility following his arrest in 2012.

Justin Robinson (New Jersey Dept. of Corrections)

Where are they now?

Justin Robinson, now 20 years old, is serving his sentence at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility. He’s not eligible for release until April 4, 2027.

Anita Saunders, mother of Justin and Dante, disputes the idea that her son lured Autumn to the house.  She claims Autumn came to the Robinson house after asking Justin to fix her bike.

She called Autumn’s death an “accident” and said that many lies have been told about her children and their role in the case.

Attorney Joseph Moran sits with Dante Robinson during his pretrial detention hearing on June 1, 2017. (Tim Hawk | For NJ.com)

Dante Robinson, now 22, is currently back in jail on home invasion charges. He was allegedly armed when he entered a Sicklerville home on May 21 and demanded money. Police say he assaulted one victim and pushed a 9-year-old to the ground before he was shot and wounded by the homeowner. He is next due in court on Oct. 27. 

The Robinson home on East Clayton Avenue. (File photo)

Meanwhile, their older brother, Michael Robinson, 23, was arrested in September on drug possession charges following an investigation by Clayton police. Police served a search warrant at the same home where authorities say Autumn was strangled.

“It’s a shame.”

That was Anthony Pasquale’s take on recent news that Dante Robinson was back in jail on new charges. He criticized the man’s parents and the now 22-year-old Robinson himself for not staying out of trouble.

“My personal opinion is the parents didn’t do anything about it and he didn’t seek the opportunity to better himself.

“If it was my child, I’d be looking for all the help there is.”

Anthony Pasquale walks out of the Gloucester County Justice Complex with family friend Barb DeFrance following Justin Robinson’s sentencing. (Joe Warner | For NJ Advance Media)

Father seeks accountability

Autumn’s father sued the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, New Jersey State Police and local departments, claiming investigators botched the search and missed an opportunity to save his daughter. The case was later dismissed.

“We couldn’t prevent the death of Autumn Pasquale because she was killed approximately six hours before she was ever reported missing,” Prosecutor Sean Dalton later stated.

Pasquale said this week that he was satisfied with that dismissal, because he felt law enforcement had learned from Autumn’s case and improved their training techniques.

He pointed to the case of a missing juvenile from earlier this year in Clayton. He said he saw a rapid, heavy police presence that included a search by air.

“They were doing exactly what I wanted them to do,” he said. “All of that stemmed from Autumn.”

In this latest case, the child was found safe and reunited with her family. “I was relieved that she was OK,” Pasquale said.

Pasquale also filed suit against Justin Robinson’s parents, saying Anita Saunders and Alonzo Robinson were negligent in supervising their child. “If you’re going to raise a murderer, you’re going to take responsibility for it,” attorney Kathleen Bonczyk said when the suit was filed.

The suit was dismissed, but Pasquale is still seeking parental accountability via legislation.

Pasquale has proposed legislation dubbed “Autumn’s Law” that would hold “abusive/neglectful parents partially accountable” for murders committed by their minor children, according to a Change.org petition promoting the bill.

More than 16,300 people have signed the petition so far.

She would have turned 18 this year

Family and friends found several ways to publicly honor and remember Autumn.

Thousands attended her funeral and various memorials. A scholarship was established in her memory and a memorial park on East Avenue was dedicated in her honor.

The community will again remember her with the Autumn Pasquale Scholarship 5K Color Run/Walk on Oct. 21 at Clayton High School.

Autumn would have turned 18 years old on Oct. 29, 2017.