Netflix: I am a Killer series premiere: Means to an End


Netflix original series I Am a Killer looks at the lives and perspectives of convicted murderers on death row. Did James Robertson kill to get into death row?

The first I Am a Killer episode, “Means to an End” looks at the life of James Robertson. When we first see Robertson, he is 54 years old, and not bitter about life.

In fact, he says the tired old line, “No one said life would be fair.” Fair or not, Robertson’s been in prison for 37 years, in Florida State Prison in Bradford County. He is on death row.

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Why is he there? In 2008, Robertson strangled his inmate, Frank Hart, to death. In other words, James Robertson was already in prison but took it another step further.

This is despite saying he had “a pretty good childhood” growing up near Orlando, Florida. He mentions a lower middle-class family. However, Robertson did a lot of “bad kid” stuff. He used to skip school a lot, smoked a lot of pot, did acid, PCP, quaaludes, valium and cocaine.

He was locked up at the age of 12 for petty theft so he could buy “dope.” Specifically, Robertson stole a stereo and some speakers.

He was later jailed for burglary, aggravated assault and escape. Inside of prison, he got in fights, stabbed people and participated in a riot (though Robertson claims officials exaggerate his threat). Robertson says he’s in solitary confinement up to 23 hours a day and that Guards humiliate him all the time.

Why’d He Kill Frank Hart?

Quite simply, Robertson says Frank Hart was a child molester, and he killed him intentionally to get on death row. Not only does Robertson not feel bad about it, but he laughs about it.

Robertson was tired of living in “close management” — another word for solitary confinement — humiliation every day.

Others speculate that Robertson did it for infamy. Anne Otwell, a Corrections Nurse, says James has an angry face, that he doesn’t talk to anyone, and that he’s a pressure cooker waiting to blow. This suggests that, one way or another, James Robertson would have probably killed somebody.

Otwell says, “He did not look at you, he looked through you” and that “close management brings a whole other flavor to the pot.” She says James wanted death row to show that he “made it.” Indeed, he could then look tough and factually tell people, “I am a killer.”

A Former Cellmate Speaks

Robert Lynch is James Robertson’s former cellmate, although he seems unsure of why he’s being interviewed. Lynch doesn’t know why Robertson says he’s his friend. In fact, Lynch calls him a “piece of [explative].”

He also regularly refers to him as “chicken head” (a form of sexual slang), though he never explains why. If it’s meant that Robertson is “submissive” or weak in some way, it doesn’t really show in this episode’s biography.

In fact, Lynch says that “chicken head’s problem is his knife.”  He uses violence to solve problems (unfortunately, prison only feeds that phenomenon). He also finds it ridiculous for James to murder someone to get out of close management.

According to Lynch, James could have got out of CM if he just followed the rules. Lynch thinks it’s just his way; “Chicken head is never going to change,” he says.

Other Voices

I Am a Killer also interviews Mark Sisto , James Robertson’s attorney. Sisto spells out the rather unusual circumstances of this case. In reality, James wasn’t automatically given the death penalty.

He actually demanded death row, and was willing to fire his lawyers until one met those needs. According to Sisto, James has spent most of his life in CM, and knew death row would be more liberating.

So, when Robertson was found legally sane and capable of being legally put to death, it was like a breath of fresh air to him — or relatively fresh prison air, one supposes.

Officer Mike Gottfried pipes in, too, saying that violence was a part of Robertson’s upbringing. He claims Robertson was hit with switches as a youth and that he gradually became ungovernable.

Indeed, there are at least 79 disciplinary reports against him, and he’s said to have become worse in close management. Frank Hart was a means to his end.

Other Motives, and a Faint Light at the End of the Tunnel

James Robertson, I Am a Killer, Netflix

Another key reason to want death row? Understandably, Robertson doesn’t want to get preyed upon as an old man. Indeed, it does seem like James’ life was harsh enough. That’s why, at the end of the day, his lawyer doesn’t think he’s a monster.

In fact, Mr. Sisto assures us he’ll be there for the execution, to be one of the few non-hostile faces present.

However, despite James not being very popular, another person is likely to show up: Robertson’s cousin Darrell Moshorm of Greenville, Tennessee. He’s actually been in contact with James, which is quite unique. According to I Am a Killer, Robertson’s own brothers haven’t been in touch with him for over 25 years.

Could James Robertson Have Been Different?

No one can see into a parallel universe, so there’s no definitive answer. However, it seems that James’s life could have been very different.

As things are, James pretty much never had a family life growing up, or a job, or his own family, or marriage, or any kind of loving relationship. He sounds like the stereotypical youth who “slipped between the cracks” and ended up behind bars.

The episode sums him up as someone who wasn’t born a monster or evil, but he just never had anything.  He just existed and never had a life.

Next. I am a Killer season 1, episode 2 recap. dark

In addition to that stark reality, Robertson says death wouldn’t be so bad, and that he prefers a painless needle over electrocution (an instance of him being a practical guy). James wants to be remembered as someone who always speaks the truth.

Maybe he doesn’t always do that, but his deliberately and systematically wasted life ought to speak some kind of truth, right?

That’s it for this I Am a Killer recap. Need a hug? Let us know in the comments!