Death Row inmate Malcolm Joseph Robbins, seen in younger days and recently
Good riddance. Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation photos

A Death Row inmate from Santa Barbara County — convicted of sodomizing and killing a 6-year-old Isla Vista boy in 1980 — was found dead in his cell at Corcoran State Prison on Friday, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Malcolm Joseph Robbins, 63, one of the longest-serving condemned persons in the state, “was discovered unresponsive in his cell and pronounced deceased by medical staff at 6:33 a.m., with a manner of death identified as natural causes,” the department said in a press release.

Robbins was 21 years old when he sodomized and murdered Christopher Finney on the afternoon of June 15, 1980.

Christopher disappeared on the way home from his father’s store in Isla Vista. He was last seen riding on a red motorcycle driven by a blond man wearing shorts.

The boy’s skeletal remains were found about three months later near the UC Santa Barbara lagoon.

After being arrested in New Jersey in late 1980 in an unrelated incident, Robbins confessed to sodomizing, strangling and killing Christopher, who the medical examiner determined died of a broken neck.

Robbins eventually was extradited to Santa Barbara, convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death.

According to appellate court documents, while Robbins was in custody in New Jersey, he was questioned by law enforcement officials from Texas, West Virginia, New York, Wisconsin, Maine, and other jurisdictions as well as New Jersey and California.

In addition to murdering Christopher, he confessed to sodomizing and murdering a 7-year-old Dallas boy in 1979, and was suspected of killing a 17-year-old West Virginia boy in 1980.

He was convicted in 1981 of strangling and killing a 9-year-old New Jersey boy, and was suspected in other killings of boys across the country.

Robbins led authorities to the bodies of the victims in the West Virginia and New Jersey cases.

Court documents and testimony at Robbins’ trial painted a picture of his upbringing in Maine marked by parental neglect, physical and sexual abuse abuse, and institutional mistreatment, as well as increasingly serious criminal behavior.

Robbins was institutionalized on and off for seven years beginning at age 11, and was accused of several sexual attacks on younger boys during that period.

Despite his troubled history, he eventually was released from custody, and made his way in 1978 to California, where he began a series of brief relationships with older men in the Palm Springs area.

He moved to Isla Vista with one of those men in June 1980, shortly before killing Christopher.

Robbins was sent to Death Row in May 1983, and his sentence had been affirmed by appellate courts.

In March 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order granting a temporary reprieve to California’s 737 Death Row inmates, including Robbins and seven other men convicted of murder and sentenced to die in Santa Barbara County.

The others are:

  • Conrad Zapien, 77, a Lompoc gang member convicted of killing a woman to avenge a family grudge.
  • Richard Allen Benson, 75, who killed a Nipomo woman and her three children in 1986.
  • Theodore Wrest, 57, who stabbed two women to death and severely injured another in 1987 in Santa Barbara.
  • Martin Mendoza, 59, who murdered his two stepchildren and a niece in 1996.
  • Tommy Jesse Martinez, 45, who raped, robbed and murdered a woman in 1996 at a baseball field in Santa Maria.
  • James Ryan Hoyt, 43, who murdered Nicholas Markowitz in 2000 in the mountains above Santa Barbara.
  • Joshua Martin Miracle, 59, an Eastside gang member who killed an opposing gang member in 2004 at an apartment in Goleta.
Light-haired man with mustache smiling

Tom Bolton, Noozhawk Executive Editor

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at