Authorities report trio of odd occurrences at the courthouse during Poplawski trial

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A man who pleaded guilty to spray-painting a death threat against Judge Jeffrey A. Manning on the side of the Allegheny County Courthouse last year was barred from watching the trial of Richard Poplawski in his courtroom, Sheriff William Mullen said Wednesday.

The incident on Tuesday was one of a trio of minor but bizarre security concerns that have arisen since the high-profile proceedings began.

Paul Rodriguez Sirmons, 40, of North Huntington was sentenced to four years of probation for writing in red "Judge MAN must die" near a courthouse entrance. He told sheriff's deputies he was in the building on Tuesday for a hearing in his own case and that he wanted to watch the Poplawski trial while he waited.

His probation officer corroborated his story, but deputies nevertheless kept him away from Judge Manning's courtroom and chambers.

Sheriff Mullen said the intense public interest in the case means he can't take any chances. Deputies also arrested Mr. Sirmons in September 2007, after he snapped a photo of a prosecution witness during the death penalty trial for the man who killed state police Cpl. Joseph R. Pokorny. A contempt charge was later dismissed.

Mr. Poplawski is charged with killing Pittsburgh police Officers Eric G. Kelly, Paul J. Sciullo II and Stephen J. Mayhle, a case that has captured national attention and resulted in heightened security at the courthouse.

Also on Tuesday, deputies towed a car from outside the courthouse that raised suspicions because it had phony plastic license plates. A deputy noticed that the keystone emblem that appears in the center of Pennsylvania plates was missing and the plate contained a sequence of letters and numbers that the state doesn't issue.

Sgt. Rich Begenwald of the city's auto squad, which is trying to identify the car's owner, said it was not stolen and confirmed the plates were fraudulent.

And in a third rare discovery, deputies took what looked like a cell phone but was really a stun gun from a woman on Wednesday as she entered the family court facility. Deputies said the Taser looked like a phone, with a camera and applications. The woman won't be charged, as she relinquished the device to deputies at the door.


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