Parolee held in cop's death
Suspect in Penn Hills killings could have served time until February
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
By Jerome L. Sherman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The man charged with killing a Penn Hills police officer was out of prison on parole after serving the minimum of a 21/2- to 5-year sentence for a firearms conviction.
Ronald Robinson would have remained in prison until February had he served his maximum sentence for illegally possessing a handgun in 2005. But the state's parole board released him in 2007, determining that "the interests of the commonwealth will not be injured."
On Sunday, police said, Mr. Robinson went to a two-story, red-brick home in Penn Hills to collect on a drug deal. Within minutes, police said, Mr. Robinson shot and killed a man who owed him $500 and then fatally shot police Officer Michael Crawshaw.
Mr. Robinson told police he shot and killed Officer Crawshaw with an assault rifle as the officer sat in his squad car outside the house in the 200 block of Johnston Road, according to a criminal complaint.
Mr. Robinson, who has an extensive criminal history, told police he killed 40-year-old Danyal Morton inside the home over the drug debt, the complaint said. Police found Mr. Morton's bullet-riddled body in a second-floor bathroom.
Police yesterday charged Mr. Robinson, 32, of Homewood, with two counts of homicide.
According to the affidavit, Mr. Robinson arrived at the Johnston Road home carrying a Chinese version of an AK-47 rifle and a 9 mm handgun tucked into his waistband. He told police that he and Mr. Morton argued in the second floor of the house, and he then shot Mr. Morton with the rifle.
At 8:22 p.m., Officer Crawshaw responded to a 911 call about a man with a gun at the address, which had been the scene of domestic disturbances in the past. Emergency dispatchers were able hear gunshots and the victim breathing over the phone, Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said.
When Officer Crawshaw arrived, a supervisor told him to wait for backup officers. He parked his car two houses down the road.
Officer Crawshaw then heard several shots "ring out" from the house, Allegheny County Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said.
According to the complaint, Mr. Robinson saw the police car as he ran outside. Officer Crawshaw told him to stop. Instead, he shot at the officer.
The bullets pierced the car's windshield and struck Officer Crawshaw in the head and at least twice in the left arm. The fatal shot hit him in the head, according to Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl E. Williams.
At least five shots were fired in the house, and police found another nine shell casings outside.
Mr. Robinson then ran into a wooded area, where he discarded the guns. Police searched the area yesterday and recovered a 7.62-caliber rifle, a Norenco MAK 90 Sporter with an obliterated serial number, and a Ruger 9mm handgun, the affidavit said.
Officer Crawshaw was pronounced dead at 8:56 p.m. at UPMC Presbyterian.
Soon after the shooting, police were told to be on the lookout for an armed and dangerous man in a dark-colored SUV, though police later said neither was connected to the incident.
Superintendent Moffatt said county homicide detectives and Penn Hills police received information connecting Mr. Robinson to the shooting. He was picked up early yesterday at a home in the 1000 block of Wheeler Street in Homewood, and he willingly came to county police headquarters for questioning.
At the time of his arrest, Mr. Robinson was on parole for a prior conviction and was wearing an electronic monitoring device on his ankle.
Sherry Tate, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, said electronic monitoring anklets such as the one Mr. Robinson wore show when an offender leaves his home and returns, but do not contain GPS technology. Parole agents can see if an offender violates curfew or tries to remove the device, but cannot see where he is a given time. She said Mr. Robinson agreed to a curfew when he was released from prison, but Ms. Tate would not say what time he was to be at his residence.
Police said Mr. Robinson had sold drugs to Mr. Morton on Saturday. On Sunday, "he came to collect his money," Superintendent Moffatt said.
Mr. Morton lived at the Penn Hills home where the shooting occurred, and at least one other man, identified by police as Lamar Jay, was in the house at the time of the shooting.
Mr. Jay told police that a man came to the door armed with an assault rifle and demanded to know where Mr. Morton was. Mr. Jay said he pointed toward the stairs and that the man went up the steps.
He told police he heard the man arguing with Mr. Morton over money. Then he heard gunshots.
Officer Crawshaw may have tried to fire at least one shot with his handgun when Mr. Robinson attacked him, police said. But Mr. Robinson wasn't wounded.
"He's dead. He's dead," shouted a neighbor who ran to assist Officer Crawshaw, according to a witness who asked not to be named because she lives alone and fears reprisal.
Mr. Robinson also faces charges of burglary, robbery and firearms violations.
He has been arrested several times in the past on drug and firearms charges.
Court records indicate that on Dec. 16, 2001, city police were called to a street corner in Homewood where they found Mr. Robinson and his cousin, Marcus Jernigan. Mr. Jernigan had been shot in the ankle. The sidewalk was littered with .380 caliber handgun shells.
According to the police reports from the time, Mr. Robinson was suspected of throwing an object into nearby bushes. They retrieved a .380-caliber handgun with an empty clip.
Mr. Robinson's case took several years to find its way through the county courts, where he was convicted in 2005 of illegal possession of a handgun. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 months in prison -- a sentence his lawyer, Michael Foglia, said was on the high end of the guidelines.
Mr. Foglia yesterday said that Mr. Robinson had never been charged with shooting Mr. Jernigan and had come to his aid after he was shot by someone else.
The case took four years to reach court because Mr. Jernigan, who was to be a witness for Mr. Robinson, was in prison in Mississippi.
While out on bail on the gun charge, Mr. Robinson was picked up with five other people in a van in Braddock where police found a handgun and two grams of crack cocaine. The gun could not be linked to him and he was convicted only of possession of drugs.
A person who answered the door at the Wheeler Street home where county police apprehended Mr. Robinson declined to comment yesterday.
Police are still investigating whether anyone else was involved in the Penn Hills shootings.
Mr. Morton also had a long criminal history.
According to court records, he spent several years in prison on two separate burglary stints. He was incarcerated with the state from 1998 until 2002, and again from 2003 until January 2008, when he was paroled. He violated that parole in January of this year and was held an additional two months.
Mr. Morton's record dates to 1991 and includes charges for fleeing or eluding, resisting arrest, recklessly endangering another person, criminal mischief and theft.
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