Trial begins in case of man accused of gunning down Penn Hills police officer
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.
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.
- Most back Holy Family’s plan to house children who crossed border
- Giant Eagle provides assistance to fight proposed Wal-Mart in McCandless
- Peduto offers ray of light to understaffed Pittsburgh building bureau
- Corbett christens $960K bus shelter, bicycle station in Robinson
- 1 intruder killed, other shot and wounded in Carrick home invasion
- Peduto says city dropped UPMC lawsuit to help nonprofit payment talks
- Foreign influx in Allegheny County at ‘tipping point’
- Emails show Allegheny County Council staff investigated potential snooping
- McCandless OKs land development plan for potential Wal-Mart
- UPMC, Pittsburgh drop tax-status fight
- Blind man accused in stabbing on South Side to stand trial