Condition of suspect in '09 death of Penn Hills officer improves

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The man who faces trial for killing a Penn Hills police officer three years ago is being called a "medical mystery" and will go to trial Nov. 26.

Ronald Robinson, 35, who was found unresponsive in his cell early Tuesday morning and intubated at UPMC Mercy, was semiconscious Wednesday morning and is expected to make a full recovery, said Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli.

He reported that an Allegheny County homicide detective spoke with Robinson's doctors early Wednesday morning and that they expect him to be returned to the jail by Friday.

No one seems to know what caused Robinson to become unresponsive in his cell.

Doctors pumped his stomach and ran a toxicology screen on his blood and found the only thing in his system was marijuana -- a common contraband found in the jail, Mr. Tranquilli said.

"It was a medical mystery exactly what happened to him," he said.

Doctors told the detective that when Robinson arrived at the hospital his body temperature was 90 degrees and that he was in the throes of a seizure. They gave him Ativan, which required him to be intubated.

Veronica Brestensky, Robinson's defense attorney, said she had been provided no information by the hospital as to her client's condition. Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski gave her permission to visit her client.

She said that when she arrived at the hospital Wednesday afternoon Robinson was awake but that he struggled to be up.

Ms. Brestensky described her client as talking incoherently at times. He repeatedly said he didn't know how he ended up in the hospital.

"If he remains in the state I saw him today, there's no way we could go to trial."

Allegheny County police are investigating the circumstances surrounding Robinson's illness and how jail officials responded to it. Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey, who will represent Robinson if the case gets to the penalty phase, objected to Judge Sasinoski setting the trial date so soon.

"I don't see how that can happen," Mr. Thomassey said. "We have a guy who was on life support 24 hours ago. I don't know whether he's competent to stand trial."

"If he's being returned to jail, one would assume he's physically fit and ready to go," the judge said.

Jury selection will begin the Monday after Thanksgiving, and the trial will follow.

Robinson is accused of killing Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw as he responded to a 911 call on Johnston Road the night of Dec. 6, 2009. Police say Robinson was inside a home in the 200 block, killed a man named Danyal Morton over a drug debt and then shot Officer Crawshaw as he fled.

neigh_city - neigh_east

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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