PITTSBURGH (AP) – A jury that already determined a city man will die in prison for killing his next-door neighbors, two sisters of an Iowa state lawmaker, now must determine how he’ll die, the convicted killer’s defense attorney told the jury Tuesday.
“You’ve decided where Allen Wade will die. He’ll die in prison,” defense attorney Lisa Phillips told the Allegheny County jury in her opening statement of the penalty phase of the 45-year-old man’s trial. “Will he die slowly, day by day … until an act of God takes him? Or will he die quickly, in an execution chamber by lethal injection?”
The same panel of seven women and five men on Monday convicted Wade of first-degree murder, burglary and other crimes for the Feb. 6, 2014 killings of Susan Wolfe, 44, and Sarah Wolfe, 38. They were the sisters of Democratic Iowa state Rep. Mary Wolfe, who has attended the trial.
Wade shot the women in head after accosting them as they returned home, separately, from work that night. Wade did that apparently to steal a bank card he used to withdraw $600 from an automatic teller machine hours later – money he needed to pay his rent and avoid eviction, prosecutors said.
On Tuesday, the jury heard opening statements and testimony in the penalty phase of Wade’s trial. They must eventually determine whether Wade deserves to die by lethal injection or spend life in prison without parole.
In Pennsylvania, a jury can impose the death penalty if prosecutors prove at least one aggravating circumstance and determine it outweighs whatever mitigating factors the defense can raise.
Prosecutors have cited five aggravating factors, most of which were proven during the guilt phase of the trial, including that Wade committed the killing while perpetrating another felony – in this case, robbery – and that one of the victims could have been a murder witness. Prosecutors contend Sarah Wolfe would have been such a witness because she was killed only after Susan Wolfe, who was found naked, had returned home first and been killed.
As such, the penalty phase was expected to turn primarily on the harm Wade inflicted and the defense efforts to mitigate that.
Police testified that Wade had an extensive record, including convictions for an $81,000 bank robbery and a shoe store heist about a month apart in 2002. Wade was free on bond on theft charges in a neighboring county when he killed the sisters, accused of stealing a $3,000 ring while delivering appliances to a home.
“It’s clear, uniform and fair,” Deputy District Attorney Robert Schupansky said of Pennsylvania’s death penalty statute.
Katie Wolfe, the victims’ older sister, testified that her father’s grief “is almost unbearable.” The sister also testified that her daughter turned 12 the day her aunts were killed, and efforts to celebrate since have been, and always will be, tainted.
“She told me, ‘I know it will always be a terrible day for the family,'” Katie Wolfe said, referring to a conversation with her daughter. “We try to put on a little show with cake and presents, but she was right.”
The defense was expected to call Wade’s relatives and other witnesses to testify before closing arguments in the penalty phase. It wasn’t immediately clear whether that would wrap up Tuesday or continue Wednesday.
It also was not immediately clear whether Rep. Wolfe will testify, and prosecutors were prevented from telling reporters because of a court-imposed gag order.
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