Zappala will seek death for Poplawski

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Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. will seek the death penalty for the man charged with the shooting deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers, his spokesman said last night.

Paperwork to support capital punishment for 22-year-old Richard Poplawski will likely be filed by the middle of next week, Mr. Zappala's spokesman Mike Manko said.

"Our investigation of both the evidence and the background of the defendant has produced several compelling, aggravating circumstances with respect to seeking the death penalty," Mr. Manko said. "As of now, there are no mitigating circumstances. Consequently, our office will be seeking the death penalty."

Mr. Zappala had until June 1, the date of Mr. Poplawski's formal arraignment, to announce his intention.

Police have said Mr. Poplawski was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and was wearing a bulletproof vest on April 4, when he shot Officers Paul J. Sciullo II, Stephen J. Mayhle and Eric G. Kelly at his Stanton Heights home.

Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey A. Manning has since ordered police investigators, attorneys, court and jail personnel not to discuss the case with the media.

"While the district attorney's intention to seek the death penalty does not surprise me, the content of the announcement does, in light of its clear violation of Judge Manning's order," said Lisa G. Middleman, Mr. Poplawski's court-appointed attorney.

"I would comment further, however, I will abide by the court order and not discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of the case, particularly at this early stage of the investigation," she said.

Mr. Poplawski's charges include three counts of homicide, and he is being held at the Allegheny County Jail. If he is convicted, a jury must then decide whether to sentence him to death.

"I guess what I would say is, if proven guilty, of course, I would support that effort," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said after a mayoral candidate debate at WTAE-TV studios. "But of course, he's entitled to his day in court, his fair trial, and if a jury were to convict him, of course I would support the death penalty in this case."

Staff writer James O'Toole contributed. Sadie Gurman can be reached at or 412-263-1878.


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