PITTSBURGH – A judge has delayed the trial of a man charged with fatally shooting a Pittsburgh-area police officer because the defendant fell ill in the county jail and had to be hospitalized before jury selection could begin earlier this week.
Allegheny County Judge Kevin Sasinoski told the Associated Press that jury selection for Ronald Robinson’s death penalty trial would begin on Nov. 26. Selection is expected to take three or four days, after which testimony will begin.
Robinson, 35, was found unresponsive in his jail cell Tuesday when guards went to awaken him for his court appearance. He was then taken to UPMC Mercy hospital, where jail officials and Robinson’s defense attorney said he was on “life support.”
But doctors on Wednesday told prosecutors Robinson was expected to recover quickly and completely, and that he could be returned to jail later this week, Sasinoski and district attorney’s spokesman Mike Manko told the AP.
“They still don’t know what happened to him or exactly what’s wrong with him,” defense attorney Veronica Brestensky said. “They’re calling it a medical mystery.”
She added: “They found nothing in his system except, interestingly enough, marijuana.”
The episode has raised questions about how jail officials monitor inmates’ medical conditions, the medicines they take and a long-standing problem at the 2,000-inmate facility: contraband.
Robinson has been jailed without bond since shortly after he allegedly shot Penn Hills officer Michael Crawshaw as the policeman responded to a 911 call of a shooting. Robinson was eventually charged with murdering 40-year-old Danyal Morton over a $500 drug debt before allegedly shooting the 32-year-old officer as he pulled up in front of the house on Dec. 6, 2009.
Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.
But Brestensky said she has learned since Robinson fell ill that he may have been taking seizure medication, even though she said her client’s jail records don’t reflect that. Brestensky got the records to help her defend Robinson.
Sasinoski issued a court order Wednesday allowing Brestensky and Patrick Thomassey, the attorney who will handle the trial’s death penalty phase, if necessary, to meet with Robinson at the hospital.
The judge told the AP that nobody is quite sure how or why Robinson fell ill. Brestensky “received conflicting reports, we’ve received conflicting reports,” Sasinoski said. “As of right now, what we have is that they really don’t know what happened to him.”
Nevertheless, Deputy District Attorney Mark Tranquilli said doctors have assured prosecutors Robinson is recovering swiftly from whatever it was that ailed him and that he’ll likely be released from the hospital by week’s end.
Brestensky said initial reports that Robinson wasn’t breathing when he was found were not true, and Manko said claims that Robinson was on “life support” were apparently exaggerated.
“The DA’s office is claiming they were told (by doctors) that there’s been no cognitive impairment, that he never lost his oxygen supply” to the brain, Brestensky said. “They said basically he’s expected to make a full recovery.”