The trial of a man accused of killing a Penn Hills police officer in 2009 began Thursday with his lawyer telling a jury that she does not dispute any facts in the capital case against her client, but believes he should not be put to death for the crime.
"No one is going to waste your time saying it wasn't Ronald Robinson," defense attorney Veronica Brestensky told the jury of six men and six women during opening statements. The verdict, she said, should be second-degree murder because it occurred during the commission or flight of a felony.
Brestensky and prosecutors gave opening statements Thursday in the trial of Robinson, 35, of Penn Hills, who is accused of killing Danyal Morton, 40, also of Penn Hills, and Officer Michael Crawshaw, 32, on Dec. 6, 2009.
Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli said Robinson killed Morton in a Penn Hills home over a $500 drug debt, and when Robinson left the house, he fired at Crawshaw — the first officer to respond to the shooting — 13 times, striking him twice.
"Mike Crawshaw's car was made into Swiss cheese by that AK-47," Tranquilli said.
Prosecutors played for the jury a recording of the 911 call Morton made while hiding from Robinson in a bathroom.
Two voices were heard on the recording arguing over $500 — the caller was heard aying, "I have your (expletive) money," and "Black, I have your money, Black." Soon after at least four gunshots rang out.
Tranquilli said Robinson's nickname is "Black" and Morton "nailed his killer" by providing police with an investigative lead.
Tranquilli and Assistant District Attorney Robert Shupansky plan to call more than 60 witnesses, including Crawshaw's parents, James and Linda Crawshaw; his brother, Matthew Crawshaw, an officer with Northern Regional police; and multiple Penn Hills and county police officers. The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.
The courtroom was packed with family members, police officers and others interested in the case.
Max and Sue Scuillo, the parents of Pittsburgh police Officer Paul Scuillo, were in attendance. Paul Scuillo and Officers Eric G. Kelly and Stephen J. Mayhle were killed in an ambush at a Stanton Heights home on April 4, 2009, by Richard Poplawski, who was sentenced to death in June 2011.
Pat Thomassey, an attorney representing Robinson, said in a motion filed in December that Robinson couldn't get a fair trial in Allegheny County because Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, tainted the jury pool when he told reporters that his office had rejected a plea deal that would have sent Robinson to prison for two life terms without the possibility of parole.
An Allegheny County judge denied Thomassey's request to change the venue of the trial.
Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.