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Jury deliberates homicide in Pa. officer's slaying

The jury requested to hear the 911 tapes of a victim minutes before his death

By Adam Brandollh
Trib Total Media

PENN HILLS, Penn. — The Allegheny County jury deciding the fate of a man accused of killing a Penn Hill police officer requested Monday to again hear the 911 call another victim made minutes before his death.

Danyal Morton, 40, of Penn Hills can be heard pleading for his life in the 13-minute recording while the man accused of killing him, Ronald Robinson, can be heard shouting and threatening Morton.

Prosecutors say Robinson, 35, of Homewood killed Morton over a $500 drug debt then fatally shot Officer Michael Crawshaw, the first officer to respond to the shooting call.

The jury of seven women and five men began deliberations about 1:30 p.m. They also requested Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski provide them with the AK-47 rifle that police say Robinson used on Dec. 6, 2009.

Sasinoski granted both requests.

The jury heard closing arguments from Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli and defense attorney Veronica Brestensky.

Brestensky, as she has since the beginning of the trial Jan. 3, conceded that Robinson shot both men, but reiterated her belief that the jury should find him guilty of second-degree murder rather than first-degree murder. A first-degree conviction would make Robinson eligible for the death penalty.

“This isn‘t a whodunit,” she told the jury. “It‘s a what did he do under the law.”

Brestensky said Robinson did not call police and wait for them to arrive, as Richard Poplawski did on April 4, 2009. Poplawski fatally shot three Pittsburgh police officers in Stanton Heights and was sentenced to death in June 2011.

Brestensky called Robinson‘s encounter with Crawshaw a “happenstance occurrence.”

“It might have been one of the most unlucky shots in Allegheny County,” she said.

Tranquilli rebuffed Brestensky‘s arguments, telling jurors that Robinson had a specific intent to kill Morton. He reminded them of Robinson‘s conversation with a friend a day before the shooting in which he said he was going to “get at” Morton.

“You don‘t shoot a person four times in the chest with an AK-47 without intending to kill them,” he said. “An AK-47 is built to kill and it‘s built to kill people.”

Crawshaw, Tranquilli said, “never stood a chance” against Robinson, who he said had the choice of running or opening fire on a marked police car.

Tranquilli slapped the nine bullets recovered from the scene down on the bannister separating himself from the jury and counted to 12, the number of shots it is estimated that Robinson fired into Crawshaw‘s police cruiser.

“Somewhere along that deadly continuum, he formed the specific intent to kill,” Tranquilli said. “Not only did he decide not to run, he decided to move up to get a better vantage point.”

Reprinted with permission from Trib Total Media

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