Judge denies request to delay death-penalty trial to find defendant's medical issue

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The death penalty trial for the man accused of killing a Penn Hills police officer will begin Nov. 26.

Defense attorneys for Ronald Robinson, who earlier this week was found unresponsive in his Allegheny County Jail cell and had to be intubated at UPMC Mercy, asked today to postpone the court date to try to give doctors time to figure out what may have caused the man's illness.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski denied the request.

He heard testimony from Robinson's intensive-care unit doctor, who said he did not know what happened to Robinson or whether it might occur again.

Robinson was found unresponsive on the floor of his cell at the Allegheny County Jail about 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday -- the day originally slated for jury selection.

He was taken to UPMC Mercy where he was given anti-seizure medications, sedated and intubated. His body temperature upon arrival at the hospital was 90.8 degrees.

By the next day, Robinson was able to breathe on his own and was conscious. He was released back to the jail Thursday afternoon.

"Do you have any explanation as to what happened to Mr. Robinson?" Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli asked.

"I don't know what happened," Dr. Alan Barnett answered.

He said he did not know what, if any, impact the illness had on Robinson or his mental state.

"I don't know what he was like before, and leaving the hospital, I don't know what he's like now," the doctor said.

He said that Robinson was able to answer questions and understand what was happening. He also participated in today's court proceeding by answering questions by the judge.

Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey argued his client should be given additional time to recover before putting him in the high-stress environment of a capital case over a several-week period.

"It makes no sense to me, in his condition, to start the trial," Mr. Thomassey said.

Judge Sasinoski disagreed, saying he heard no testimony to preclude Robinson's participation at trial.

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


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