A Garfield man who bludgeoned his family to death with a sledgehammer is looking to get off death row by saying the prosecution made him look bad.
The lawyer for Kenneth Hairston, who was sentenced to death for the 2001 murder of his wife and autistic son, made his client's case for appeal Tuesday before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sitting in Pittsburgh.
Hairston, who stabbed himself and set fire to his house after the killings in an apparent suicide attempt, says the prosecution unfairly introduced evidence in his trial about accusations that he repeatedly raped his stepdaughter over a 7-year period.
The convict killed his family two weeks before he was set to stand trial for the rapes, telling authorities he feared they wouldn't be able to care for themselves if he went back to jail.
Attorney Mike Healey, who is representing Hairston, said the prosecution went too far in elaborating on the rape charges.
"It was used to inflame and prejudice the jury," he said.
The justices were a bit skeptical. The man killed his family with a sledgehammer and set them on fire, Justice J. Michael Eakin said.
"I'm not sure how much more prejudice you could heap on top of that," he said.
Mr. Healey also argued the presiding judge should have told the jury about the conditions of second-degree murder, which covers killings committed during another crime. He argued that Hairston's arson could have brought that clause into play.
Justice Thomas G. Saylor noted that the defense opened the trial by admitting the two victims didn't die in the fire, which could invalidate a second-degree murder defense.
Hairston is awaiting execution. It might never happen: Pennsylvania hasn't executed anyone since Philadelphia mass murderer Gary Heidnik in 1999.
The only three prisoners executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978 were "volunteers," waiving their rights to appeal.
Andrew McGill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1497.