Robinson gets two life terms in Penn Hills double killing

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Ronald Robinson was going to spend the rest of his life in prison, no matter what.

The jury hearing his double homicide trial guaranteed that with the verdict it rendered Tuesday afternoon.

Robinson, 35, of Homewood was found guilty of first-degree murder for the killing of Danyal Morton over a drug debt and second-degree murder for the slaying of Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw, who was killed responding to a call for shots fired at Morton's home three years ago.

The case was supposed to then move into a penalty phase for Morton's death, in which the prosecution would present evidence of aggravating factors, attempting to convince the jury of seven women and five men that Robinson should be executed for his actions. Instead the process was short-circuited. The prosecution was stymied for the penalty phase in that the second-degree verdict for Officer Crawshaw would preclude the Allegheny County district attorney's office from presenting any of the aggravating factors that went along with the slaying of an officer in the line of duty.

After some consultation with Morton's family after the verdict was rendered, Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli announced to the courtroom packed with Officer Crawshaw's family, friends and fellow officers, that his office was not going to seek the death penalty.

"Victim impact testimony is emotionally draining," Mr. Tranquilli said. "Given the current state of the death penalty in Pennsylvania, it just wasn't worth the pain and suffering they were going to go through."

But, he continued, "the district attorney has always believed and continues to believe this was an appropriate capital case."

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski, after listening to victim impact testimony from only Linda Crawshaw, the officer's mother, sentenced Robinson to two consecutive sentences of life in prison without parole.

Mrs. Crawshaw took the witness stand and read from a statement she had prepared.

She recounted some of her favorite memories of her son, as well as the pain her family has endured since Dec. 6, 2009.

It has been "utterly devastating to lose a child to senseless murder," she said. "To have to live with the memory of the violence associated with it is unbearable and neverending."

She recounted how, as a 3-year-old, her son would not stay at preschool without her, and so she became a teacher's aide.

And later, after dropping him off for the first time at Edinboro University, where he earned degrees in social work and psychology, crying all the way home.

Her son was working as a probation officer when he announced to his mother he planned to become a policeman.

"I had mixed feelings of pride and fear that day," she said. "How was I supposed to know that both of those would come true so quickly?"

Mrs. Crawshaw talked about feeling guilt when she finds herself happy or laughing now; the burden left for her son, Matthew, who is a police officer as well; and how her husband, Jim, has been devastated by Michael's death.

"My biggest fear is I'll close my eyes one day and not remember the sound of his voice anymore," she said.

She concluded by talking about the greater loss incurred by the death of her son.

"Society has lost all the good he would have accomplished throughout his lifetime."

Mr. Tranquilli spoke on behalf of the Morton family, noting that the man's brother, Eric Morton, a city police detective, had attended the trial throughout.

Danyal Morton, the prosecutor said, grew up in a good home, played baseball and football and, as the youngest of three sons, was the life of the party.

But he was also a drug addict.

"The Danyal Morton the jury saw in the photographs during the course of this case is not the Danyal Morton they knew," Mr. Tranquilli said. "Their memories of Danyal will always be the happy ones."

When given the opportunity to speak, Robinson declined.

No one from his family was present during the verdict or sentencing.

Veronica Brestensky, who tried the guilt phase of the case, said her client's mother was aware of what was likely coming.

"Their son, in a winning scenario, would never see the light of day again," she said. "Certainly, to say she's happy about it is an impossibility."

But, Ms. Brestensky continued, "They've had enough time over the years to come to terms with it."

Patrick Thomassey, who was to represent Robinson if the case went to a penalty phase, spoke briefly to the court.

"Mrs. Crawshaw," Mr. Thomassey said, turning to look at her, "I knew your son. I mean that, and he was a good man.

"This has been the most difficult case of my career."

He described his client as having the mental capacity of a 12-year-old.

"There's a lot of reason for that, but it's not an excuse," Mr. Thomassey said. "He's not a very articulate guy."

Choosing to bypass the penalty phase, he said, would "save a lot of heartache."

The defense had long ago offered to plead guilty to first-degree murder for both victims in exchange of a sentence of life in prison with no chance for parole.

The prosecution, though, said that while Morton's family signed off on the offer, the Crawshaw family could not.

"The toll on families in these kinds of cases is horrific -- win, lose or draw," Mr. Thomassey said.

The jury, which deliberated for more than 10 hours over two days, split on its verdict. It found that Robinson was guilty of first-degree murder -- a killing with premeditation and the specific intent to kill -- for Morton, but second-degree -- or the killing of someone during the commission of a felony -- with respect to Officer Crawshaw.

No one from the jury wanted to speak to reporters.

Ms. Brestensky argued that her client never intended to kill Officer Crawshaw and that when he encountered the man as he fled the Johnston Road scene where he had just killed Morton, he became scared and started firing.

Mr. Tranquilli argued that firing at least 12 shots from an assault rifle into the driver's side of a patrol car was a clear showing of intent.

"I understand where some of the jurors may have been coming from," he said. "I'm not going to second-guess them."

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Paula Reed Ward: or 412-263-2620. First Published January 16, 2013 5:00 AM


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