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Trial begins in case of man accused of gunning down Penn Hills police officer

Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
At the Allegheny County Courthouse, Ronald Robinson is escorted by deputy sheriffs to the courtroom, Thursday, January 3rd, 2013. Robinson is charged with the shooting death of Penn Hills Police Officer Michael Crawshaw in December of 2009.
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Listen to the 911 call and the struggle in the background.
Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 12:52 p.m.
 

Diane Espey heard the gunfire that killed Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw outside her home on Dec. 6, 2009.

She told an Allegheny County jury Thursday that she looked out her bedroom window and saw the police cruiser idling, phoned a neighbor and went outside.

“It was very silent,” Espey, 47, said during the first day of the much-delayed capital trial of the man accused of killing Crawshaw, 32, of Shaler, and another man. “There was nothing but the sound of hissing” coming from one of the car's tires.

Inside the car, Espey saw Crawshaw's body slumped over the center console. Another neighbor felt Crawshaw's pulse, Espey said.

“There was none. He was not with us anymore,” she said. “Then everybody just started screaming.”

Police say Ronald Robinson, 35, of Penn Hills sprayed Crawshaw's car with 13 rounds from an AK-47 rifle after fatally shooting Danyal Morton, 40, inside a nearby home over a $500 drug debt. Crawshaw, the first officer to arrive on the scene, was struck twice.

Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli is seeking the death penalty.

Robinson's lawyer, Veronica Brestensky, told the jury of six men and six women that she would not dispute the facts of the case.

“No one is going to waste your time saying it wasn‘t Ronald Robinson,” Brestensky said during her opening statement in front of Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski. But she asked for a second-degree murder verdict because the killing occurred during the commission or flight of a felony.

The prosecution's first witness, Morton's former roommate, Lamar Jay, has been jailed for 72 days because he first refused to cooperate with investigators, leading to one of the delays. Jay, 28, testified he received a call Dec. 5 from a man who identified himself as “Black” looking for Morton because he was frustrated that he couldn't get in touch with him.

The next day, Jay called Black at 6:50 and 7:45 p.m. to let him know Morton was home. About a half-hour later, a man appeared at the home and began yelling at Morton and telling him to “open the (expletive) door.”

Jay said he recognized the voice outside as the man he spoke to on the phone and opened the door to find a man he identified as Robinson standing in front of the house with a large military-style rifle.

“He asked where Danny was,” Jay said. “He had a gun. I told him he went upstairs.”

Jay said he heard gunshots, saw Robinson running down the stairs, and discovered Morton dead on the bathroom floor.

Two voices were heard on a recording of a 911 call Morton made while hiding in the bathroom. Morton was heard saying, “I have your (expletive) money,” and “Black, I have your money, Black.” Soon after, at least four gunshots rang out.

“I'm hit. I'm hit. Oh Lord, I'm hit,” the caller said in the recording played for jurors.

The trial resumes Friday with testimony from police officers and forensic experts.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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