Jury begins deliberations in slaying of Penn Hills officer
The Allegheny County jury deciding the fate of a Homewood man accused of fatally shooting a Penn Hills police officer and another man deliberated about five hours Monday without a verdict.
The jury began deliberations in the case against Ronald Robinson, 35, about 1:30 p.m. after closing arguments by defense attorney Veronica Brestensky and Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli.
Prosecutors said Robinson killed Danyal Morton, 40, in the bathroom of his Penn Hills home over a drug debt on Dec. 6, 2009, and as he fled sprayed Officer Michael Crawshaw's police car with shots from an AK-47 semiautomatic assault rifle, striking the officer in the head and the left arm.
About 3 p.m., the jury asked Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski to replay Morton's 911 call and to inspect the rifle prosecutors said Robinson used to commit the murders.
University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said he hadn't “the slightest idea” why the jury would want to inspect the murder weapon, but said the jury's request to replay the 911 tape and the longer-than-expected deliberations were signs they were paying attention and taking their job seriously.
“I would have assumed a relatively quick verdict, but I would have assumed wrong,” Burkoff said. “But it's good that they're not just jumping to a verdict.”
Jurors resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
During closing arguments, Brestensky — as she has since the trial began Jan. 3 — conceded her client killed both men, but reiterated her belief that the jury should find Robinson guilty of second-degree murder rather than first-degree murder. A first-degree murder conviction would make Robinson eligible for the death penalty.
“This isn't a whodunit,” she told the jury. “It's a what-did-he-do-under-the-law.”
Brestensky said Robinson did not call police and lie in wait for them, as convicted cop killer Richard Poplawski did. Poplawski fatally shot three Pittsburgh police officers in Stanton Heights on April 4, 2009, and was sentenced to death in June 2011.
Instead, Brestensky called Robinson‘s encounter with Crawshaw a “happenstance occurrence.”
“It might have been one of the most unlucky shots in Allegheny County,” she said.
Tranquilli rebuffed Brestensky's arguments, telling the jury that Robinson had a specific intent to kill Morton, reminding them of Robinson's conversation with a friend a day before the shooting in which he said he was going to “get at” Morton, who was dodging him over a $500 drug debt.
“You don‘t shoot a person four times in the chest with an AK-47 without intending to kill them,” he said. “An AK-47 is built to kill and it's built to kill people.”
Crawshaw, Tranquilli said, “never stood a chance” against Robinson, who he said had the choice of running or opening fire on a marked police car.
Tranquilli slapped nine bullet casings police recovered from the scene onto the banister separating himself from the jury and counted to 12 — the number of shots criminologists estimated Robinson fired into Crawshaw's police cruiser.
“Somewhere along that deadly continuum, he formed the specific intent to kill,” Tranquilli said. “Not only did he decide not to run, he decided to move up to get a better vantage point.”
If Robinson is convicted of first-degree murder, the trial will move into the penalty phase, during which the defense and prosecution will present additional testimony, and the jury will then decide whether Robinson should be put to death.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Komen acceptance of drilling-linked money raises ire
- Linebacker Harrison coming along slowly since return to Steelers
- Steelers notebook: Shazier returns just in time
- America’s manufacturing comeback
- Corbett, Wolf resort to sticks, stones to attract attention
- Critics claim state Attorney General Kane puts politics first
- Monsour hospital properties sold at free-and-clear sale
- Lower Burrell man charged with shoplifting
- Pens look to buck shots, goals trend
- Penguins notebook: Carcillo has no hard feelings after failing to make roster
- 2 dead, including student gunman, after Wash. school shooting