Plea deal rejected in '09 death of Penn Hills officer Crawshaw

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Allegheny County prosecutors rejected Thursday morning a defense request for a plea agreement in the slaying of a Penn Hills police officer.

According to a statement by the Allegheny County district attorney's office, prosecutors were approached with an offer by lawyers for Ronald Robinson to plead guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in exchange for two life prison terms.

"When approached with such an offer, our office has an ethical responsibility to both consider the offer and communicate the offer to the family of the victims," said Mike Manko, a spokesman for the DA's office. "That communication took place [Thursday] morning, and jury selection in the trial will continue."

Five jurors have been selected in the capital case since Monday. Robinson is accused of killing Officer Michael Crawshaw on Dec. 6, 2009, as he responded to a 911 call on Johnston Road. Danyal Morton was also killed, police have said, because of a drug debt.

Veronica Brestensky, who is representing Robinson in the guilt phase of the trial, was disappointed in the decision not to accept the plea.

"I respectfully disagree with their position because I believe a resolution through a plea would be beneficial for everyone involved and would save much pain and heartache for both sides," she said.

Typically, the DA's office does not discuss plea negotiations, and legal experts believe it shouldn't have in this case, either.

"I think plea negotiations should be confidential," said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff. "There's no reason to announce this rejection and potentially taint the jury pool. And in the future, what this may well do is chill the possibility of a plea deal in other cases."

Wes Oliver, a criminal law professor at Duquesne University, agreed.

In criminal trials, it is against the rules of evidence for the prosecution to introduce information to the jury about plea negotiations, he said.

"Particularly when a jury hasn't been sworn or sequestered, it undermines this defendant's right to get a fair and impartial trial," Mr. Oliver said. "Announcing that the defendant has agreed to accept a certain offer suggests to the jury that the defendant is, in fact, guilty."

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


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