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Published: Monday, 6/20/2011

Trial to open for man accused of killing 3 Pittsburgh police officers in '09

BY LINDA WILSON FUOCO
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

Most of the motions have been settled, the out-of-town jury is in place, and the attorneys are through practicing their openings.

At 9 a.m. Monday, the trial is set to begin for Richard Poplawski, who is accused of killing three Pittsburgh police officers April 4, 2009, during a three-hour standoff in Stanton Heights.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning has told jurors to be prepared to spend 10 hours a day, Saturday and Sunday included, in order to get the trial finished by the July 4 weekend.

Mr. Poplawski is charged with three counts of homicide in the shootings of Officers Paul J. Sciullo II, Stephen J. Mayhle and Eric G. Kelly. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty.

The officers were responding to a 911 call from Mr. Poplawski's mother, who reported a domestic dispute with her son.

Mr. Poplawski also is charged with nine counts of attempted homicide for firing shots at other officers and wounding one of them.

Space is limited in Judge Manning's courtroom in the Allegheny County Courthouse on Grant Street, Downtown. The judge has reserved seats for relatives of the officers and of Mr. Poplawski.

If there's an overflow, spectators can watch a video feed of live testimony in Room 313, on the same floor as Judge Manning's courtroom. But the video won't be available for outside broadcast. Prohibited from the courtroom are cameras, recording devices, cell phones and other electronic gear.

Due to two years of extensive pretrial publicity in Allegheny County, the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys traveled to Dauphin County earlier this month to interview prospective jurors. It took them four days to pick 12 jurors and six alternates.

The 10 men and eight women traveled to Pittsburgh by bus Sunday and checked into an undisclosed hotel, where they will be sequestered for the duration of the trial.

Prosecutors are Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli and Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini. Defense attorneys are Lisa G. Middleman from the Allegheny County Public Defenders Office and Bill Brennan and Lisa Phillips.

A gag order prohibits anyone involved in the trial from talking about it.

The defense is fighting attempts by prosecutors to introduce as evidence some comments made by Mr. Poplawski in 2007 on an online radio show. He allegedly vowed to "make the history books" by killing an ex-girlfriend and her relatives, pets, neighbors and two police officers.

The comments aren't relevant because they occurred two years prior to the shootings, Ms. Middleman contends, saying the remarks were like "shock jock" material.

But Mr. Tranquilli argues that a tape of those comments was in Mr. Poplawski's car the day of the shootings.

"The man verbalizes in his own words what he's going to do, and he did exactly that."

Judge Manning said he won't rule until after the trial begins.

The Block New Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Linda Wilson Fuoco is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact her at lfuoco@post-gazette.com.



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