Jury to be selected in death penalty case

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Jury selection will begin today in the death penalty case against a man accused of killing Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw three years ago.

Ronald Robinson, 35, is charged with two counts of criminal homicide, robbery, burglary and illegal possession of a firearm.

If the jury finds Robinson guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Officer Crawshaw, it will then have to decide if he should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole.

Officer Crawshaw was shot and killed inside his patrol car Dec. 6, 2009, as he responded to a 911 call on Johnston Road.

Prosecutors say Robinson had been inside a home there and shot and killed another man, Danyal Morton, over a drug debt. As he fled, he came upon the police officer and opened fire, investigators allege.

The case was slated to go to trial last month but was delayed when prosecutors could not locate a key witness from inside the home the night of the shooting.

The U.S. marshals picked up that witness on a material witness warrant a day later, and Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski ordered that he be held in custody until he testifies at trial.

Jury selection is expected to last about four days. The judge will gather the pool of potential jurors each morning and ask a series of general questions before moving the process to his courtroom. Individual questioning will be done in his chambers.

Opening statements are slated to begin Nov. 27.

Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli has about 40 witnesses for the guilt phase of the trial, which is expected to last about a week.

Robinson will be represented by Veronica Brestensky for the guilt phase and Patrick Thomassey if the case moves into a penalty phase.

The district attorney's office is seeking the death penalty based on a number of aggravating factors, including that Officer Crawshaw was a member of law enforcement, that there are multiple killings, that the defendant has a significant history of felony convictions and because, they say, the shootings were committed in furtherance of the drug trade.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published November 13, 2012 5:00 AM


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