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Trial Begins for Killer of Three Officers

Trial Begins for Killer of Three Officers

Philadelphia Inquirer via YellowBrix

June 20, 2011

PITTSBURGH – A Pittsburgh man goes on trial Monday on charges of killing three police officers who responded to a domestic-dispute call at his mother’s house in April 2009.

Authorities believe Richard Poplawski lay in wait after the call and then killed city officers Paul Sciullo II, Stephen Mayhle, and Eric Kelly during a three-hour standoff.

Poplawski’s mother told a 911 operator her son had a weapon, but that information wasn’t relayed to police, officials said.

The defense has dropped plans to pursue an insanity plea, but lawyers still expect to raise mental-health issues at trial.

Trial will be held in the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, with jurors brought in from central Pennsylvania because of pretrial publicity.

A video feed of the testimony will be played live in an overflow room at the courthouse, given the intense interest in the case.

Cameras are typically banned in Pennsylvania courtrooms, in contrast to several other states that sometimes broadcast high-profile trials to the public.

Judge Jeffrey Manning agreed to reserve seats in his courtroom for relatives of the officers, the suspect, and trial witnesses. But police union officials said they were not encouraging their members to turn out in force.

“We want the trial to progress without anyone saying that we interfered,” Fraternal Order of Police president Dan O’Hara told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I don’t want a mistrial declared. We’re taking a hands-off approach.”

The 12 jurors and six alternates come from Dauphin County.

Authorities allege that Poplawski fired at nine other officers during the standoff, wounding one of them. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

The defense is fighting attempts by prosecutors to use a clip of comments Poplawski made on an online radio show in 2007, in which he allegedly vowed to “make the history books” someday by killing an ex-girlfriend, her family members, pets, neighbors, and two police officers, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Defense lawyer Lisa Middleman last week compared the remarks to “shock jock” material, and argued that the comments weren’t relevant to the April 4, 2009, shootings.

Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli said the tape containing the comments was found in Poplawski’s car on the day of the shootings, making it relevant.

“The bottom line is the man verbalizes in his own words what he’s going to do, and he did exactly that,” Tranquilli said.

Manning reserved his ruling on the issue until trial.


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