Arrest made in Sept. 16 Homewood shooting that killed 1
Harold Cabbagestalk, shot to death in a Hill District bar, left a bloody legacy despite never being convicted of murder, police said.
“Because of him and his activities, the witness protection unit was formed at the police department,” said retired Pittsburgh homicide Detective Ron Freeman. “We felt he was responsible for several murders — the exact number I'm not sure of — but it was always the same thing: He'd kill somebody, we'd get info from people that he was the one involved, and then that witness would end up dead.
“Every witness to a crime he was involved with was in jeopardy. We decided one way around it was to form this witness protection. That's his legacy to Pittsburgh.”
Cabbagestalk, 40, died on Sept. 17, hours after he was shot at close range inside the Flamingo Bar while watching a Steelers game with friends, police said.
On Thursday, police arrested Jay Lamar Morrison, 37, of North Braddock inside Lady Di's bar in Homewood and charged him with killing Cabbagestalk and carrying a firearm without a license.
The bar's security camera captured the shooting, according to a police complaint to support the charges. Morrison, a stocky 5 feet, 11 inches tall, punched the diminutive Cabbagestalk several times, the affidavit states, knocking him to the ground, then pulled a handgun from his waistband. The affidavit states that he shot Cabbagestalk eight times as he tried to get off the floor.
Services for Cabbagestalk were held Sept. 20 in Morningstar Baptist Church in Hazelwood, said an official with House of Jackson funeral home in Donora. His family could not be reached.
Defense attorney John L. Elash, who represented Cabbagestalk several times, including during a 1994 murder trial, said his client's reputation as a murderous gangster is undeserved.
“In the cases I had with him, the witnesses against him were horrendous — drug addicts and bums. That's what I was dealing with,” Elash said. “He was a good-looking, nice kid from Hazelwood whose grandmother used to work for (Steelers owners) the Rooneys. He was always extremely polite.”
Current and former police officers say otherwise.
To them, he was a thug who got away with murder.
In 1992, police charged him with shooting Eugene Robinson 14 times, killing him. They dropped murder charges when a witness changed her testimony, officials said.
Two years later, he was charged with killing Verna Robinson, Eugene Robinson's sister, after she agreed to cooperate with police. He was acquitted at trial.
“Harold was never really convicted of murder, so I don't know why (police) are calling him a murderer,” Elash said. “If in fact he was responsible for so many murders, it's a shame they couldn't get him.”
Pittsburgh police Lt. Kevin Kraus said Cabbagestalk, a member of a Hazelwood gang, was “probably one of the most dangerous criminals in the city” in the 1990s.
“He had a lot of street credibility, from within his own gang and even from other gangs,” Kraus said. “People were afraid of him. He was ruthless.”
In 1994, Kraus was a plainclothes officer when he and fellow Officers George Satler and Hal Bolin went to an apartment in St. Clair Village to arrest Cabbagestalk for Verna Robinson's murder.
“As we were approaching the building, he came out with a gun drawn,” Kraus recalled. “We drew our weapons and he ran, and we chased him and arrested him and recovered the gun. That was as close as I ever came to shooting somebody. When he drew that gun, we thought we were going to be in a shootout.”
Kraus and Freeman said Cabbagestalk's violent death did not surprise them.
“I'm surprised he lasted that long,” said Freeman, who teaches crime scene and forensic investigation courses at the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University. “He made a lot of enemies along the way, but most of them were terrified of him, and for good reason. His message was, ‘You snitch on me, and it'll be the last person you snitch on.' ”
They hope his death emboldens witnesses of past murders to come forward.
“Certainly we believe there are people out there that have information that were afraid to come forward before,” Kraus said. “Hopefully now they will, and we can re-examine some cold cases.”
Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.