Six witnesses testify in first day of trial in killing of Penn Hills police officer
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Six witnesses testified today during the first day of the potential capital case against the man accused of killing Penn Hills police officer Michael Crawshaw.
Ronald Robinson, 35, also is charged with criminal homicide in the death of Danyal Morton, who lived at 201 Johnston Road.
Both Officer Crawshaw and Morton were shot to death on Dec. 6, 2009.
During the first day of the trial, Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli called two neighbors who heard about 10 shots being fired on the street that evening, as well as the first Penn Hills officers to arrive on the scene.
The key witness of the case, Lamar Jay, who has been held in custody for 72 days on a material witness warrant to compel his testimony, told the jury that he opened the door for Robinson to enter the house on Johnston Road, demanding to see Morton.
He knew Robinson by the nickname, "Black" which is tattooed on the man's back.
Prosecutors have said Robinson fronted Morton $500 worth of crack cocaine but was never paid for the product.
Mr. Jay told the jury he was terrified of testifying, and that he never wanted to be involved in the case.
"I don't want no parts of this at all," he said. "I come from a place where ratting, snitching... you're not supposed to do it. It's not good. It could cost you your life. It could cost your people's life."
Earlier today, an Allegheny County 911 call-taker testified that he heard Morton drown in his own blood after being shot at four times on Dec. 6, 2009.
Steven Rudic was the first witness called in the death penalty case.
Mr. Tranquilli played the seven-minute 911 call for the jurors.
Morton called 911 while hiding inside the bathroom on Johnston Road.
"I heard a male whispering," Mr. Rudic testified. "You really couldn't make it out. I did pick up on the gun."
After the initial exchange with Morton, Mr. Rudic said there was 45 to 50 seconds of argument.
"That's when I heard four sharp blasts that sounded like a gun," he testified.
Then he continued, "I heard someone drown in their blood."
In the audio recording, a man's voice can be heard shouting, "Where's my money?"
Morton then responds, "I have your ... money ... I swear to God on my life ... Hey, Black."
The assailant then said, "Pull it out now."
Then came the shots. And Morton said, "I'm hit. I'm hit. Oh, Lord."
During her opening, defense attorney Veronica Brestensky told the jurors that she would not argue that her client is innocent.
"No one is going to waste your time saying that it wasn't Ronald Robinson," she said. "We're not going to down that road and waste your time here."
Instead, Ms. Brestensky told them that they should find her client guilty of second-degree murder, which is a homicide committed during the commission of another felony.
The underlying crime, she said, could be either burglary or robbery.
"We shouldn't even be here, to be 100 percent honest with you," Ms. Brestensky said.
The defense offered to plead guilty to two counts of first-degree murder during jury selection in exchange for Robinson serving life in prison with no chance for parole, but the district attorney's office said Officer Crawshaw's family rejected the offer.
If Robinson is found guilty of first-degree murder, the jury will have to determine whether he should be executed or get life in prison.
The case resumes Friday morning at 9 a.m. before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski.
First Published January 3, 2013 12:34 am