PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Richard Poplawski, the man on trial in the 2009 shooting deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers, has been found guilty on all counts including criminal homicide.
After just over three hours of deliberations on Saturday, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree for the April 2009 deaths of Officers Eric Kelly, Stephen Mayhle and Paul Sciullo II when they responded to a domestic call at the Poplawski family home in Stanton Heights.
Following the reading of the verdict, police officers in the courthouse applauded prosecutor Mark Tranquilli as lawyers carried evidence from the courtroom.
“That was a very touching thing for them to do, it was unnecessary; but you know, I think that what we look at here, we’re dealing with not just three families, we’re really dealing with four, and I think the fourth family is really the entire law enforcement community in Allegheny County,” he said.
The penalty phase of the trial will begin on Monday.
On Friday, the prosecution rested its case after days of testimony. The trial resumed Saturday morning as the defense opened and closed its case without calling a single witness.
“No. I think to ask a jury to render a verdict on the death of three police officers and expect them to come up with anything other than a guilty verdict with this type of evidence would have been unreasonable expectation on my part,” said Lisa Middleman, the defense attorney.
The jurors then heard closing arguments early this afternoon and deliberations began around 4:20 p.m.
First, the jury heard closing arguments from Middleman who took an hour to tell the jury that the prosecution never considered whether the defendant’s mother was an accomplice, and argued that Poplawski panicked thinking police would kill him if they saw all of his weapons.
Then, Tranquilli pointed to Poplawski and in a raised voice said: “the choices made by that man led to all this.” He pointed to his target practice at a rural Clarion County camp as well.
The prosecutor, referring to events depicted in a police animation shown during the trial, said officer Paul Sciullo was massacred even after he was down.
He called Officer Stephen Mayhle a hero with a capital ‘H’ for engaging in a gun battle he couldn’t win. For his heroism, he got shot in the back like a dog, said Tranquilli; and officer Eric Kelly, he said was assassinated as his SUV pulled up to the scene.
It was too much for some family members of the victims and one was seen leaving the courtroom. The defense did not put on any witnesses.
“I think, given the quality of the prosecution’s evidence, it would be almost insulting to do so and that’s why I chose not to do it,” said Middleman.
“Her tactical decision was with an eye towards that, in other words, I think she figured he would have a better chance of getting a life sentence if she did not anger the jurors by dwelling on minutia by putting on defense witnesses,” said Tranquilli.
The six alternate jurors in the case have been dismissed and will eventually head back to Harrisburg.