A man accused of killing three people, two of whom were longtime residents of Pittsburgh's North Hills, is expected to plead guilty to three counts of first-degree homicide today in Chambersburg, Franklin County.
Kevin Cleeves, 36, is charged with shooting his estranged wife, Brandi, 25, along with Vincent "Luke" Santucci, 29, a former Avalon resident, and Mr. Santucci's mother in Franklin County last July 27. The killings apparently resulted from an argument between Kevin and Brandi Cleeves over custody of their 4-year-old daughter, Leia.
Mrs. Cleeves was separated from her husband and for two months had been dating Mr. Santucci, who spent two years at Northgate High School when his family lived in Avalon. His mother, Rosemary "Linda" Holma, 55, also had lived in Avalon before moving to Franklin County.
State police said the killings took place in Quincy, south of Chambersburg, outside the house where Mr. Santucci lived with his mother. He was a chef at a Chambersburg restaurant, where Mrs. Cleeves also worked.
Mr. Cleeves, who lived in the nearby town of Waynesboro, had gone to Mr. Santucci's house to talk with his wife about custody of their daughter, state police said. The two parents had been in court over custody.
Mr. Santucci, Mrs. Cleeves and Leia were sitting in his car when Mr. Cleeves showed up. Mr. Santucci told him to leave and then shots were fired, state police said. Ms. Holma was killed when she rushed out of the house to help her son, police added.
Mr. Cleeves had pleaded innocent last fall but is expected today to change his plea to guilty to three counts of first-degree homicide. He then will receive three consecutive life sentences, said Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogal.
Mr. Fogal had earlier filed paperwork seeking the death penalty, but changed his mind after the suspect decided to plead guilty.
In a phone interview, Mr. Fogal said that before agreeing to drop the death penalty, he talked with state police and surviving family members, including Mr. Santucci's father, Vincent Santucci Sr., now of Gettysburg but formerly of Avalon.
Mr. Fogal said some family members preferred that the case go to trial, so the death penalty would be possible, "but others would prefer to end it now."
The Santucci and Holma families had lived for years in the Pittsburgh area. "Our roots were always tied to Pittsburgh," Mr. Santucci Sr., who studied at Pitt, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year. He said the family moved around because of his work as a geologist and ranger for the National Park Service.
Tom Barnes: email@example.com or 1-717-623-1238.