Closing arguments set stakes high in Penn Hills shooting
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One after another, the prosecutor slapped shell casings onto the railing before the jurors.
"First shot," said Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli, slamming the empty shells from the assault rifle before them. "Specific intent to kill yet?
"Second shot," he said, repeating the action. "Are we there yet?
"Third shot. Are we there yet?
"Fourth shot," he continued. "Does he know what he's doing?
"Fifth shot. Does he know that he's trying to kill somebody?"
And on the prosecutor went, until he got to 12.
"Somewhere along that continuum, that deadly continuum," Mr. Tranquilli said, "Ronald Robinson formed the specific intent to kill."
It was a dramatic display by the veteran prosecutor, designed to convince the jurors that Robinson killed Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw on purpose. That he meant to do exactly what he did on Dec. 6, 2009, while the officer was responding to a call for shots fired at 201 Johnston Road.
And it was meant to show that Robinson is guilty of first-degree murder.
Whether the jury of seven women and five men adopts Mr. Tranquilli's version of events is still to be seen.
After about five hours of deliberation Monday, the panel, which is now sequestered, retired for the evening. It will resume today.
If the jury finds Robinson guilty of first-degree murder for Officer Crawshaw or in the shooting death of Danyal Morton, who owed the defendant a drug debt, the case will move into a penalty phase. Prosecutors will try to convince the jury that Robinson should be put to death for his actions, while the defense will attempt to present evidence in mitigation.
If the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict of death, or if it believes the mitigating factors outweigh those in aggravation presented by the prosecution, Robinson will spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance for parole.
From the outset of the trial, which began Jan. 3, defense attorney Veronica Brestensky conceded 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.
She continued that same argument in her closing Monday morning.
"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 premeditation and 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, Mr. Tranquilli laid out each one of those shell casings, making the jury understand that Robinson had to pull the trigger on his semi-automatic rifle every time he wanted a shot to go off. That was at least 12 shots fired at Officer Crawshaw's patrol car.
That number of shots, the prosecutor continued, shows 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 ... 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 Robinson 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."
He then played Morton's dramatic 911 call. In it, Robinson can be heard threatening Morton and demanding his money. Morton pleads for his life, but is shot and killed.
"You heard with your very ears," Mr. Tranquilli said at the conclusion of the recording. "You heard a second-degree murder case blossom or escalate into a first-degree murder case."
During Ms. Brestensky's closing, she urged the jurors not to let the emotional impact of the testimony they heard affect their judgment in reaching a verdict.
"This is not the time to grieve for these losses," she said. "If you want to hate Mr. Robinson after the trial, be my guest. If you want to be disgusted by the actions of Ronald Robinson that night, be my guest."
Mr. Tranquilli agreed the jury should not be colored by emotion.
"It's not about emotion," he said. "It's about doing a job with a clear head."
First Published January 15, 2013 12:00 am