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Bondsman surrenders in slaying of fugitive

A bail bondsman surrendered Thursday to face a charge of criminal homicide in the fatal shooting of an unarmed fugitive during a confrontation in a North Side house.

Mark Smith, 37, of the North Side, was accompanied by his attorney when he surrendered at 7:45 p.m. at the Municipal Courts Building, Downtown. He was charged in the death of Michael Robinson, a former Ross resident.

Robinson, 38, died of a shotgun wound to the pelvis. He was shot Dec. 23 during a confrontation with Smith at a home on Rising Main Avenue.

Smith’s partner, Anthony McKay, 31, of Brookline, has not been charged.

“I’m surprised … that it’s a single charge of homicide as opposed to a specific count of manslaughter,” said attorney Michael DeRiso, who represents Smith, adding that his client is “upset” that charges were filed.

Smith was arraigned yesterday in Night Court before District Judge Armand Martin and was released after posting 10 percent of a $25,000 bond. A hearing was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday in City Court.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning has issued a gag order in the case, authorities said.

DeRiso previously stated that Smith fired a rubber bullet at Robinson.

“He never intended to kill anybody,” DeRiso said at the time. “The bullets he used are for non-deadly self-protection.”

County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, however, said a bullet slug recovered from Robinson’s body was made of lead.

A Butler County judge in December had revoked a $20,000 bond posted by Liberty Bail Bonds after Robinson failed to appear in court on charges of receiving stolen property. Robinson was arrested in August by Zelienople police, who found him sleeping in a car reported stolen from his former girlfriend.

Liberty Bail Bonds, based Downtown, hired Smith and McKay to hunt down Robinson. They found him in a North Side house that had no electricity, and a confrontation occurred in a dark room. McKay thought Robinson was armed and fired once, investigators said.

Police later discovered that Robinson, whose last known address was in Zelienople, did not have a weapon.

Bail-bond agencies sometimes employ people to track down defendants who skip out on bail bonds. Such workers are called bail bondsmen, skip tracers or fugitive-recovery agents. They are derisively called bounty hunters by some people.

Police said officers were dispatched at 6:59 p.m. Dec. 23 to help the two bail bondsmen who were trying to serve a fugitive warrant on Robinson.

Officers found Robinson on the floor bleeding heavily. The officers performed CPR until paramedics arrived but were unable to revive him. Robinson was pronounced dead at the scene at 7:28 p.m.

The shooting sparked a dispute between Wecht and District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Zappala’s office filed a series of court petitions in January asking Manning to quash subpoenas that Wecht’s office issued in anticipation of conducting open inquests into the death of Robinson and the Nov. 9 police shooting in Wilkins of Eugene Aiello, 31, of Turtle Creek.

The district attorney contends Wecht was overstepping his authority — as outlined in the second-class county code — by probing killings already under investigation by prosecutors, who ultimately decide whether criminal charges are warranted. By Michael Hasch TRIBUNE-REVIEW

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