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'Medical mystery' delays Penn Hills cop-slaying trial

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Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 10:06 a.m.

A “medical mystery” will delay for two weeks the trial of a man accused of fatally shooting a Penn Hills police officer, an Allegheny County judge decided Wednesday.

Guards found Ronald Robinson, 35, unresponsive in his Allegheny County Jail cell Tuesday hours before jury selection was to begin.

“It appeared that Mr. Robinson was in the throes of some type of seizure,” said Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli.

During a conference Wednesday to reschedule the trial, Tranquilli told Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski that doctors at UPMC Mercy are baffled by what they call a “medical mystery.” They pumped his stomach and tested his blood for toxic substances, but found only that he was under the influence of marijuana, Tranquilli said.

“The medical staff has no medical explanation as to what happened to Mr. Robinson in the early hours of Nov. 13,” he said.

Robinson remains under observation at the hospital but doctors plan to return him to the jail Friday.

Sasinoski scheduled jury selection to start Nov. 26.

Prosecutors charged Robinson with shooting and killing Danyal Morton, 40, of Penn Hills, and Officer Michael Crawshaw, 32, on Dec. 6, 2009.

Police said Robinson killed Morton in a Penn Hills home over a $500 drug debt, then left the house and fired at Crawshaw — the first officer to respond — striking him several times while he still was in his patrol car.

The District Attorney's Office is seeking the death penalty.

Pat Thomassey, one of Robinson's lawyers, objected to resuming the trial until the defense can determine whether the medical problem hurt Robinson's ability to participate in his defense.

“We have a guy who was on life support,” he said. “It's clear there was no suicide attempt here. He was not trying to forestall this trial.”

Sasinoski said there's no evidence Robinson suffered brain damage.

“If he's being returned to the jail, it's presumed that he's physically fit and ready to go,” the judge said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or

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