Witness: Suspect planned Penn Hills vengeance

Man killed in home before officer slain

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Ronald Robinson talked about going after Danyal Morton for stealing crack cocaine from him the day before he went to the man's Penn Hills home and shot and killed him.

Christopher Eleam, a long-time friend of Robinson's who grew up with him in Homewood, said that he saw his friend at the Conemaugh Club in Homewood the evening before the Dec. 6, 2009, shooting of Morton and Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw.

"He mentioned he got robbed," Mr. Eleam testified Monday in the third day of Robinson's trial. "He said he was going to 'get at him.' "

Mr. Eleam then explained to Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli what he thought his friend meant, "He could possibly kill the dude.

"I told him 'The game you're in, you win some, you lose some. A couple hundred dollars isn't worth it.' "

But, for Robinson, it didn't matter. The defense conceded during its opening statement to the jury on Thursday that Robinson did kill both Morton and Officer Crawshaw. Defense attorney Veronica Brestensky argues, however, that her client is not guilty of first-degree murder, which could result in a death sentence. But she says her client should be found guilty of second-degree murder, which is a homicide during the commission of another felony. That would carry a life prison term but no chance of the death penalty.

Mr. Eleam told the jury that about a week before the killings he visited Robinson at the man's home on Wheeler Street, and that Robinson showed him an AK-47, which he had hidden under the mattress of his bed.

Robinson was on parole with electronic monitoring at the time.

Mr. Eleam touched the gun and looked at how it worked, he testified. He told the jury he believed Robinson took the same gun to his home the afternoon of Dec. 6 when he arrived to watch a Steelers game.

Mr. Eleam lives on Glendale Road, less than half a mile away from 201 Johnston Road, where Morton and Officer Crawshaw were killed.

While Robinson was at Mr. Eleam's home that afternoon, the witness said his friend was on his cell phone a lot. Early in the evening, Mr. Eleam testified that he passed out after drinking vodka and beer all day, and that when he woke up, Robinson seemed like something was bothering him.

Mr. Eleam's long-time girlfriend testified that while her boyfriend was passed out, Robinson left the home for about 30 minutes and then returned.

"He seemed jittery, out of breath," said Tamara Lowe.

According to prior testimony, Morton called 911 just before 8:22 p.m. to report that someone was inside his home with a gun.

Although Morton stopped talking to the 911 call taker, he can be heard pleading with Robinson and promising him the money he owed him. Mr. Eleam identified Robinson's voice on the call.

Officer Crawshaw was the first officer to arrive on scene that night. He was killed while sitting inside his police cruiser.

Thomas Morgan, who works for the Allegheny County medical examiner's office crime lab, testified Monday that Officer Crawshaw's vehicle was shot at least 11 times by the assault rifle, and possibly as many as 13.

The assailant was moving at the time the shots were fired, and the defense contends that Robinson was fleeing the scene.

Before testimony resumed Monday morning, Juror No. 12 was removed from the case.

On Friday, that man told the staff of Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski that he received a cell phone call purportedly from Harold Hayes, a reporter for KDKA-TV. A voice mail on the phone included a message that the caller was seeking a comment on the ongoing Robinson trial.

The Allegheny County sheriff's office investigated over the weekend, Judge Sasinoski said, and learned that the phone call was actually made by the juror's son "for unknown reasons."

Judge Sasinoski removed the juror from the case and told the rest of the panel that it should not allow the fictitious phone call, which he characterized as a "crank call," to influence their deliberations.

The judge also told the jurors that their personal information is being guarded for the duration of the trial. One of four jurors chosen as alternates will replace the dismissed juror.


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


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