Judge refuses to delay trial of suspect in fatal shooting of Penn Hills officer

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Ronald Robinson's defense attorney argued Friday that because no one knows what happened to cause the man to lose consciousness and be hospitalized earlier this week, his death penalty trial should be delayed until doctors find an explanation.

"We don't know what happened to him. We don't know if it's going to reoccur, and we're going to bring him back here in nine days for jury selection?" asked Patrick Thomassey.

That's exactly what's going to happen.

After listening to testimony from Robinson's intensive care unit physician at UPMC Mercy, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski said he heard no evidence as to why the case should not go on with jury selection Nov. 26.

Throughout the hearing Friday afternoon, Robinson sat at counsel table in a red, jail-issued jumpsuit, listening to argument and testimony. He also answered questions from the judge.

Just three days earlier, Robinson was found on the floor of his cell at the Allegheny County Jail early Tuesday morning -- the day originally slated for jury selection.

He was transported 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.

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

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

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

Dr. Barnett said he did not know what, if any, impact the illness had on Robinson or his brain function.

He did say, though, that Robinson was able to answer questions and understand what was happening.

Mr. 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 told the judge that if the same ailment had struck one of the attorneys, there's no way the court would have forced trial to go on.

But Mr. Tranquilli said an attorney's role in the case is different than that of a defendant.

"He just has to follow the proceedings and interact with his attorneys," he told the judge.

Also at Friday's hearing, the prosecution said it planned to use evidence that two shivs were found inside Robinson's jail shoes during a search of his cell Wednesday as investigators were looking for clues as to what might have made the man sick.

Mr. Tranquilli told the judge he'd like to use the 41/2 inch pieces of metal as evidence if the case gets to a penalty phase. He would argue that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for Robinson.

Robinson is charged with two counts of criminal homicide for the Dec. 6, 2009, shooting deaths of Danyal Morton and Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw.

The prosecution alleges that Morton was killed over a drug debt, and that Officer Crawshaw was killed responding to the 911 call at the home on Johnston Road.

neigh_city - neigh_east

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


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