A Greenville, South Carolina, jury found Ariel Robinson, a Food Network contestant accused of killing her foster daughter in their home, guilty of homicide by child abuse on Thursday afternoon, according to local reports.
Robinson, 30, and her 35-year-old husband, Jerry "Austin" Robinson, were arrested and charged with homicide by child abuse in January 2021 following the death of their 3-year-old foster daughter, Victoria "Tori" Rose Smith, Greenville County records show. Austin pleaded guilty last month to aiding and abetting homicide by child abuse.
The jury deliberated for about an hour and a half before reaching a verdict following a four-day trial. Robinson was sentenced to life in prison, FOX Carolina reported.
The Greenville County Coroner’s Office said last year Smith died as a result of blunt force injuries, according to a medical examination.
Ariel Robinson took the witness stand Thursday and teared up when she was asked what it was like to live with Smith. The "Worst Cooks in America" season 20 winner described the 3-year-old as "a perfect child" who was easy to get along with, according to the outlet.
Prosecutors argued the Robinsons fatally beat Smith on Jan. 14, 2021, when police found the girl unresponsive in their home. Greenville County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Ward, a forensic pathologist, testified on Wednesday that the toddler was beaten with such force that her blood vessels burst, allowing blood to collect in her muscles and fat, which could have led to her death, FOX Carolina reported.
"If we lose enough blood, the heart doesn’t have enough volume to pump," he said.
Austin Robinson previously told authorities that the fatal beating stemmed from Jan. 13, 2021, when he said Smith threw up on the way to a church service, and Ariel became angry at the child.
Witnesses Jean Smith and Avery Santiago testified on Wednesday that they saw Ariel and an undressed Smith in the church bathroom as Ariel tried to clean the girl's dress in a sink. Smith said she asked Ariel whether Smith was sick, and Ariel apparently told her that the child "eats too much and makes herself throw up," calling it "a game."
Santiago testified that she heard Ariel say to Smith, "'Oh, you’re cold. You’re cold. Girls that make themselves throw up deserve to be cold,'" according to FOX Carolina.
"I was frustrated," Ariel said Thursday when asked about the church incident.
Austin, who took the witness stand on Tuesday, testified that Ariel would become angry with Smith's eating habits and beat her with belts or a wooden paddle.
"Sometimes I’d take a piece of (her) food just to help her out," the 35-year-old testified, FOX Carolina reported.
Airel, a former teacher, won $25,000 upon winning the Food Network competition, which pits amateur cooks against each other in a series of cooking challenges overseen by celebrity chefs, Deadline reported.
Episodes of her season are no longer available to stream on Food Network's online platforms, including Discovery+, Hulu and YouTube.
A petition on Change.org with nearly 46,000 signatures calls for South Carolina lawmakers to pass a bill called Victoria's Law that will reform "the current screening process to become not only an adoptive parent but as a foster parent as well."
"We want there to be frequent non-scheduled home visits to the foster and adoptive parents and even after adoptions are finalized," the petition's description states."We want Guardian Ad Litem's and case workers [sic] to talk privately with children in these homes so that they have the chance to ask for help if they need it."
In a Twitter thread posted on Jan 6., Robinson said that while her Black and White children were treated the same in her house, it will "not be the case" when they go out into the real world.
"It’s a shame that as a proud mom to 4 beautiful boys, I can’t protect them from the reality and evil of this world once they leave the house. However, I will fight and use my voice to make a difference. To bring awareness and change so that one day, that change will come," she continued. "I’m a Mama Bear, & I’ll do anything to protect my children & make sure their futures are equally bright [because] they have the same opportunities & are treated as equals the way God made them. There should be no #whiteprivilege only American privilege. #EqualityforAll #BlackLivesMatte[r]."
Fox News' Lucas Manfredi and Jeanette Septembre contributed to this report.