Trial begins in killing of Penn Hills officer Crawshaw
Ronald Robinson is escorted from Judge Kevin Sasinoski's courtroom for a lunch recess on the first day of his murder trial Thursday. He is accused of killing Penn Hills police officer Michael Crawshaw in December 2009.
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Penn Hills police Officer Matthew Junod was patrolling a neighboring area to his friend and colleague, Michael Crawshaw, the evening of Dec. 6, 2009.
Both men were dispatched at 8:22 p.m. for a report of a person with a gun inside a home at 201 Johnston Road.
Officer Crawshaw was the first one to arrive.
"Turning on Johnston Road," were the last words Officer Junod heard his friend say.
As additional officers headed to the scene, a dispatcher changed the call to "shots fired."
Officer Junod, who was traveling right behind another officer in an SUV, arrived on Johnston Road, and the first thing he thought was "Find Mike.
"He wasn't responding whenever we were calling him."
So frantic was Officer Junod to find his friend, that he ran straight past Officer Crawshaw's parked patrol car. As he was searching front yards and between houses, Officer Junod heard a call over the radio for an "officer down."
Officer Crawshaw was found slumped over in the seat of his patrol car. He had a gunshot wound near his left eye. His handgun was found on the center console.
Ronald Robinson, 35, went on trial Thursday, charged with killing Officer Crawshaw as well as a man who lived inside the home on Johnston Road, Danyal Morton.
Lamar Jay, one of the prosecution's key witnesses in the case, told the jury that he spoke with Robinson, who had identified himself as "Black," for a short time the evening of Dec. 5 and agreed to call him when Morton was home. Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli told the jury that Robinson fronted Morton $500 worth of crack cocaine and was trying to collect on his debt.
The next night, Mr. Jay called Robinson to let him know Morton would be home shortly. Some time later, Mr. Jay was upstairs when he heard Morton yelling at someone outside.
"He was saying, 'I got your money. I got your money.'"
Mr. Jay went down the steps and Morton raced past him upstairs. The man outside, who Mr. Jay recognized as "Black," had an assault rifle and was yelling at him to open the door.
Mr. Jay did as he was told.
"I'm terrified," he said.
Robinson asked him where Morton was, and Mr. Jay told him "upstairs."
As Mr. Jay hid in the master bedroom, he heard the two men arguing in the bathroom and then heard several shots.
"It was crazy," Mr. Jay testified. "I had like an out-of-body experience. I froze up. I just froze."
He heard Robinson run down the steps and leave, and a short time later heard "a lot of shots" outside.
Mr. Jay, who has been held in custody for 72 days on a material witness warrant to compel his testimony, told the jury that when he first gave his statement to police, he lied.
"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."
On cross-examination by defense attorney Veronica Brestensky, Mr. Jay testified that he didn't believe Robinson was planning to harm Morton when he spoke on the phone with him.
"I didn't think this guy was going to come and go to these measures," he said. "I don't even live this kind of lifestyle."
As Mr. Jay was opening the door to Robinson that night, Steven Rudic, a call taker for Allegheny County, was answering the 911 call from Morton, who was hiding inside the bathroom.
"I heard a male whispering," Mr. Rudic testified.
After the initial exchange with Morton, Mr. Rudic said he could hear the man arguing with someone else for 45 to 50 seconds.
In the audio recording of the call, 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."
"That's when I heard four sharp blasts that sounded like a gun," Mr. Rudic testified.
On the recording, Morton can be heard saying, "I'm hit. I'm hit. Oh, Lord."
"I heard someone drown in their blood," Mr. Rudic said.
During her opening statement Thursday morning, Ms. 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 go 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 is expected to last three weeks and is being heard by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski.
First Published January 4, 2013 12:00 am