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Prosecutors reject guilty plea offer from accused killer of Penn Hills officer

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 12:32 p.m.
Ronald Robinson, 35, of Homewood is accused of killing Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw on Dec. 6, 2009. J.C. Schisler | Tribune-Review
Penn Hills Progress
Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw was killed while responding to a call in 2009. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office on Thursday rejected a guilty plea offer from attorneys representing a Homewood man accused of killing a Penn Hills police officer and another man.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said defense attorneys offered to have Ronald Robinson, 35, plead guilty and serve two life terms. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Zappala's office rejected the plea after speaking with the victims' families. Manko wouldn't disclose what relatives of Officer Michael Crawshaw and Danyal Morton said.

“Our office has an ethical responsibility to both consider the offer and communicate the offer to the family of the victims,” Manko said.

Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey declined comment.

Jury selection resumed in the afternoon.

Former county prosecutor Stephie Ramaley said when plea offers are made, they are usually discussed with families and police.

Then, “the families of victims and the police make a joint decision,” said Ramaley, who works at the North Side law firm Burns White.

“Allegheny County does not seek the death penalty often. Typically when they do, (the victims) are law enforcement, children or multiple people,” she said.

“Other (district attorneys) go after the death penalty in every case in order to get a plea to first-degree murder. The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office doesn't work that way.”

Prosecutors charged Robinson with fatally shooting Morton, 40, of Penn Hills, and Crawshaw, 32, on Dec. 6, 2009. Police said Robinson killed Morton in a Penn Hills home over a $500 drug debt, left the house and fired at Crawshaw, striking him several times while he still was in his patrol car.

Henry Wiehagen, president of the county Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 91, said he favors the death penalty for cop killers.

“(Crawshaw's killing) was more or less an ambush. I have no problem with the death penalty in certain circumstances. I'd pull the switch,” Wiehagen said.

But he added, “We have a good working relationship with the DA, and whatever his decision is fine by me.”

Even if a jury gives Robinson the death penalty, he may never receive lethal injection.

Pennsylvania's death row holds 204 convicted killers, the fourth most in the country. It has executed only three killers since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978 and none in the past decade.

Bruce Antkowiak, head of the criminology and law program at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, said by the time a case is ready for trial, prosecutors have thought about plea bargains and decided to push forward with the capital case.

“Many have already contemplated the alternatives, and they think (death) is appropriate,” he said.

Jury selection in the case began Monday, and five jurors have been seated.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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