Robinson convicted of second-degree murder for fatally shooting Penn Hills police officer

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 11:32 a.m.

Linda Crawshaw recalled the day her son Michael told her he was going to take the test to become a police officer.

“I had mixed feelings of pride and fear that day,” she said Tuesday while choking back tears. “How was I supposed to know both of those would come true so quickly.”

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski sentenced Ronald Robinson to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole after a jury convicted him of second-degree murder for the death of Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw, 32, and first-degree murder for killing Danyal Morton, a Penn Hills man who owed Robinson money for drugs.

“Mike did not have the privilege of a judge and jury to determine life and death for him,” Linda Crawshaw said. “Not only have I lost my son, but society has lost all the good he would have accomplished during his lifetime. Ronald Robinson had the conscious choice to make the right decision and he made the wrong one.”

Robinson, 35, stood emotionless in a yellow shirt and black pants and declined to talk when given the opportunity. His family was not present.

The jury of seven women and five men spent more than 10 hours over two days deliberating Robinson's fate. Although the first-degree conviction could have sent the jury back into deliberations for the death penalty, the District Attorney's Office did not proceed to the penalty phase based on a request from Morton's family.

Robinson killed Morton, 40, in the bathroom of his Penn Hills home over a $500 drug debt on Dec. 6, 2009, and as he fled sprayed Crawshaw‘s police car with shots from an AK-47 military-style assault rifle, striking the officer in the head and the left arm, killing him instantly.

Defense attorney Veronica Brestensky, who conceded Robinson's guilt from the start of the trial that began on Jan. 3, said her goal was to spare Robinson's life. She sought a second-degree conviction, which covers murders that happen during the commission of another felony.

“Going into this trial it was hard to say that a win for the defense team would be a life sentence, where my client will never see freedom again. But that's the reality of the circumstances,” she said. “There was no use in trying to say it wasn't Ronald Robinson, it was never a defense strategy because the evidence simply did not support it. We came in as a defense team with the sole idea of trying to save this man's life.”

Jurors declined to comment.

Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said Robinson accepted responsibility for his actions. In December, Robinson offered to plead guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“He didn't want to put the family through this trial. This was difficult and it was about to get more difficult,” Thomassey said.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. “always believed this was an appropriate capital case,” but did not proceed to the penalty phase based on the request from Morton's family, who was “mindful of the fact that given the current state of the death penalty in Pennsylvania, Ronald Robinson (would have) died in prison” regardless of whether the jury sentenced him to death, said Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli.

Pennsylvania‘s death row holds 199 convicted killers, the fourth-most in the country. The state has executed only three inmates since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, with none in the past decade.

“The death penalty, as it stands, is something that's on paper. That entered into their decision,” Tranquilli said.

Morton's brother, Pittsburgh police Detective Eric Morton, hoped his brother could have gotten over his drug addiction before his death, Tranquilli said.

“The Danyal Morton the jury saw is not the Danyal he will remember,” he said.

Linda Crawshaw, who appeared each day at Robinson's trial with her husband Jim, said her nightmare became a reality the day Robinson killed her son.

Officers from Pittsburgh, Penn Hills and Allegheny County Police wept as she explained how she has repeatedly asked herself whether her son suffered, if he knew he was going to die, and whether he called out for her like he did when he was a child.

“Our lives are shattered. Tears are a part of our life,” Linda Crawshaw said. “All I have left is memories. Ronald Robinson will remain alive. He will still be able to speak with and visit with his family and friends whereas with Mike, his death is permanent.”

Staff writer Tony LaRussa contributed to this report. Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or

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