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Trial to begin for man accused of killing Penn Hills officer

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

The capital trial of a man accused of killing a Penn Hills police officer and another man more than three years ago is set to begin Thursday after numerous delays, a missing witness, a mysterious hospitalization and a plea bargain that prosecutors rejected.

Ronald Robinson, 35, of Penn Hills is accused of killing Danyal Morton, 40, also 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; when Robinson left the house, he fired at Crawshaw — the first officer to respond to the shooting — striking the officer several times as he sat in his patrol car.

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

Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli and Assistant District Attorney Robert Shupansky plan to call more than 60 witnesses, including Crawshaw's parents, James and Linda Crawshaw; his brother, Matthew Crawshaw, an officer with Northern Regional police; and multiple Penn Hills and county police officers. The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.

No one from the Crawshaw family returned calls.

The months leading up to the trial before Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski were fraught with unusual events.

In October, Sasinoski put a reluctant witness in jail to secure his testimony at trial. The witness, Lamar Jay, Morton's roommate in 2009, testified at a preliminary hearing that he saw Robinson enter the house and go upstairs to confront Morton about a drug debt before he heard gunfire and found Morton dead.

Less than a month later, guards at the county jail found Robinson unresponsive inside his cell the morning that jury selection was supposed to begin. Instead, Robinson was on life support for two days at UPMC Mercy, Uptown. Authorities said they don't know what happened to Robinson and that he appeared healthy in court two days later.

On Dec. 6, Sasinoski rejected a change of venue request from Patrick Thomassey, one of Robinson's two defense attorneys, who said Robinson couldn't get a fair trial in Allegheny County because the district attorney's office released information about a proposed plea bargain that would have sent Robinson to prison for two life terms without the possibility of parole.

Thomassey is representing Robinson in the penalty phase, should the case get that far. Veronica Brestensky is representing Robinson in the verdict phase.

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

Pennsylvania's death row holds about 200 convicted killers. The state has executed only three people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978 and none in the past decade.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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