Jury in Penn Hills police officer's killing asks to again hear 911 call

The jurors deliberating the case against Ronald Robinson have retired for the evening.

After about five hours of deliberations, the panel hearing the case involving the shooting of Danyal Morton and Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw broke for dinner.

The jurors will return Tuesday morning.

The jury asked the court to listen to the 911 call made by Morton in the case.

After less than two hours of deliberations, the jurors returned to the court with four questions, including if they could listen to the 911 call that he made as Robinson came into his home at 201 Johnston Road the evening of Dec. 6, 2009.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski allowed the prosecution to play the call twice, in which Morton can be heard pleading with Robinson for his life.

The jurors also requested to have the assault-style rifle used in the slayings in the jury room with them, as well as for a copy of a police report in the case.

The panel heard closing arguments this morning in the case against Robinson, accused of killing Mr. Morton over a drug debt and then killing Officer Crawshaw as he responded to the house that night.

From the outset of the trial, defense attorney Veronica Brestensky conceded to the jury that her client shot and killed both men. But she argued that Robinson should be found guilty of second-degree murder -- a killing during the commission of a felony -- and not first-degree murder, which would move the case into a penalty phase where the jurors must decide if Robinson should be put to death.

She continued that same argument this morning in a 57-minute closing.

"This case is not a whodunit, as much as what was done," she said. "What, exactly is Ronald Robinson guilty of under the law of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania?"

Ms. Brestensky explained the difference between first- and second-degree murder.

First-degree requires the "specific intent to kill."

"There's absolutely no evidence Ronald Robinson intended to kill Officer Crawshaw, let alone knew he would arrive at the house," she said. "This wasn't a case where Ronald Robinson chose a deliberate route to wait for police. He didn't hide behind some bush and lay in wait. This was a happenstance occurrence."

Ms. Brestensky told the jury she believed the number of bullets fired by Robinson is irrelevant. Morton was struck four times in the chest and there was testimony at least 12 shots were fired at Officer Crawshaw's police car.

But in his closing Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli argued the opposite, saying the number of shots goes to show that Robinson intended to kill both men.

"You don't shoot a person four times in the chest without intending to kill them," he said. "He actually moved closer to Michael Crawshaw as he was unloading that AK-47. He decided to move up and get a better vantage point. If that car doesn't scream out specific intent to kill, then I don't know what does."

The prosecutor told the jury he believed that Robinson started plotting Morton's death at least a day before when he complained about the man stealing his cocaine.

"Even 24 hours before the murder of Danyal Morton, that man was talking about what he was going to do," Mr. Tranquilli said. "Even before he leaves the house, he's contemplating that he's going to kill somebody. He takes not one, but two, firearms with him."

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Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published January 14, 2013 5:45 AM


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