Remote camp offers clues into Poplawski's psyche


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Richard Poplawski was known to frequent a remote camp in Clarion County that was sometimes used for target practice.

About an hour and 15 minutes north of Pittsburgh, the property owned by his mother included a ramshackle white structure with no electricity or running water.

It had a leaky roof, which caused rotting floors, broken-out windows and, for an unknown reason, the property parcel number written in black marker on the front.

The day after police say Mr. Poplawski shot and killed Pittsburgh police Officers Paul J. Sciullo II, Stephen J. Mayhle and Eric G. Kelly in a lengthy standoff on April 4, 2009, in Stanton Heights, state troopers traveled to the property.

There, they discovered dozens of spent assault rifle rounds and shotgun shells, along with a number of items scattered about that had been used for target practice.

During the fourth day of Mr. Poplawski's capital homicide trial Thursday, photographs of the camp were displayed by prosecutors.

In addition to the spent casings found outside, state police found a number of odd items that had been used for target practice. There was a white door riddled with bullet holes, along with an electronic dart board, a blue barrel from Survival Outpost, a stainless steel double sink and a wheel barrow.

Inside the building stood a non-working refrigerator with a stockpile of food, including rice, granola bars and a water purification kit.

Also found in the building was a piece of paper dated Dec. 17, 2007, titled "2008 New Year's Resolution."

In the hand-printed page, signed by "Richard Andrew Poplawski," he wrote that he wanted to "live up to his intellectual, physical and social potential."

It continued, "To work to attain a more complete understanding of human nature and to study the subjects which capture my interest, would assist in achieving my goals or are necessary to become a well-rounded person."

PG VIDEO: DAY FOUR TESTIMONY

He sought to learn to appreciate "simple pleasures" and to seize upon opportunities to learn.

Some 18 months later, police say Mr. Poplawski armed himself with an assault rifle, shotgun, handguns and rifle, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition, and opened fire on dozens of members of the Pittsburgh police.

The prosecution called seven witnesses Thursday, including Allegheny County Police Detective Timothy Haney.

Detective Haney, who performed a forensic analysis of a laptop computer found in the defendant's bedroom, showed the jury three images that were on the laptop of Mr. Poplawski, in which he is seen posing with his weapons.

In one, the young man is wearing a ball cap, and a bullet-proof vest with the word "Po," on the front. He's holding a semi-automatic handgun across his body.

In another, Mr. Poplawski, wearing a dress shirt and tie, holds an assault rifle at a ready position. In the third, identified as "arsenal" in the computer, Mr. Poplawski, dressed in a white tank top, sits at a table. Spread before him are a number of weapons, including an assault rifle, handgun, a long gun, gun belt, banana clips and ammunition.

The pictures were uploaded to the computer in November 2008, Detective Haney said.

The investigator also described for the jury a review he did of the laptop's browser history.

In the four hours before the shootout, prosecutors believe Mr. Poplawski read a Fox News story online about the mass shooting of 13 people at an immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y., a day earlier.

The story was visited twice that morning -- at 3:58 a.m. and again at 4:18 a.m.

Other websites visited during that time period included stormfront.org, described by Detective Haney as a white nationalist site, as well as rawmeatybones.com, a commercial dog food site, and letsgopens.com.

Earlier Thursday, Dr. Abdulrezak Shakir, a forensic pathologist with the Allegheny County medical examiner's office, described the wounds sustained by Officer Sciullo during the shootout.

Officer Sciullo, who is believed to be the first officer on the scene, was shot eight times. His service weapon was still holstered.

His body was found lying in the threshhold of the front door at the Poplawski home at 1016 Fairfield St.

Dr. Shakir told the jury that at least three of the shots that struck the officer would have been fatal, including two in the head and another that traveled through his aorta.

The prosecution displayed for the jury graphic photographs taken during Officer Sciullo's autopsy.

Upon cross-examination, Dr. Shakir said that two of the shots were "most probably" fired by SWAT team officers while others were attempting to recover the body of Officer Mayhle from the walkway in front of the house.

The trial, being heard by Dauphin County jurors because of heavy media coverage of the case, is expected to continue through next week.

Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli has so far called 30 witnesses and said Thursday evening he expects to call 11 more. The prosecution could rest today.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning has said he will hold court over the weekend.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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