Poplawski appeal says errors made in trial, sentencing
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The man convicted and sentenced to die for the shooting deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers has filed his first post-sentence appeal in the case.
Richard Poplawski's motion was filed with Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, seeking both a new trial and new sentencing hearing.
According to the motion filed Thursday by the Allegheny County public defender, several errors were committed during the case, including that Judge Manning allowed the jury to hear Mr. Poplawski use racial epithets in the 911 call he made and that the panel was informed that he visited the white supremacist website, Stormfront, hours before the shootings.
"Despite the Commonwealth's assertions that this evidence was being used to show intent, it was merely being used as an opportunity to remind the jury, numerous times, that Mr. Poplawski was a bad person with hateful tendencies and therefore should be convicted and sentenced to death," wrote attorney Carrie L. Allman.
She also claimed that Judge Manning improperly permitted Mr. Poplawski's confession -- made to a city detective the day after the April 4, 2009, shootings -- to be heard by the jury. The defense claims that Mr. Poplawski already had invoked his right to counsel and to remain silent and should not have been questioned.
The case against Mr. Poplawski, heard by a Dauphin County jury, began June 20. He was found guilty of first-degree murder June 25 in the shooting deaths of officers Paul J. Sciullo II, Stephen J. Mayle and Eric G. Kelly and condemned to death June 28. He is being held at the State Correctional Institution Camp Hill.
The defense motion also called into question several parts of the penalty phase hearing, arguing that Mr. Poplawski is entitled to a new one.
Among the issues challenged, Ms. Allman focused on the prosecution's use of victim impact evidence.
During the first day of the sentencing phase, Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli called 10 family members of the victims to talk about their lives without their loved ones.
In the appeal, the defense said that the prosecution "abused the use of victim impact statements."
In addition, Ms. Allman complained in her motion that Mr. Tranquilli improperly showed the jury video footage of the memorial services for the officers because it was not considered a legal aggravating factor.
In a related issue, the Stanton Heights home where the three police officers were shot to death two years ago will go up for sheriff's sale Sept. 6.
It's the third time the house has been listed for sale, although the second listing -- scheduled for April 4 -- was stayed. That date coincided with the second anniversary of the shooting deaths of the officers.
JPMorgan Chase Bank moved for foreclosure on the home at 1016 Fairfield St. in September 2009, saying that the mortgage had gone upaid since May 1, 2009.
After the shootout at the home, the city declared the brick ranch house uninhabitable.
According to court records, the bank is seeking $58,446 for the unpaid loan as well as $3,574 in interest. If the house were to sell for more than that amount, said Allegheny County Sheriff's Sgt. Richard Fersch, that money would go to the owner, Margaret C. Poplawski, mother of Richard Poplawski.
Ms. Poplawski filed a lawsuit against Allegheny County 911 and Nationwide Insurance Co. seeking fair market value for the property that she claims was destroyed in the shootout. That case is still pending.
Ms. Poplawski purchased the home in 1999 for $64,500.
First Published July 12, 2011 12:00 am