PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A prominent local defense attorney says the likelihood is very high that Rahmael Holt will be given the death penalty for the murder of New Kensington Police Officer Brian Shaw.
“This poor young kid was doing this job protecting all of us, and for the defendant to turn around and do what he allegedly did is outrageous, and I think it will be treated as such,” defense attorney William Difenderfer said.
The killing of a police officer in the line of duty is a capital felony and the chances of a death penalty being imposed are greater than in other homicides.
Richard Poplawski, convicted of murdering three Pittsburgh police officers, was sentenced to death and currently sits on death row awaiting execution. Difenderfer says the jury Holt will face in Westmoreland County will likely be apt to do the same.
“You’re going to be in Westmoreland County,” Difenderfer said. “That’s mostly a rural area. As we know, rural areas are typically conservative. Conservatives are typically pro-prosecution.”
But that’s not always the case.
In 2007, prosecutors were denied the death penalty they sought against Leslie Mollett for the murder of Cpl. Joseph Pokorny. The jury gave Mollett life instead.
Four years ago, Ronald Robinson also got life for the murder of Penn Hills Police Officer Michael Crawshaw.
Difenderfer believes that won’t be the case with Holt, but notes that the verdict must be unanimous with no dissenters.
“When it ultimately comes to deliberate and them to go home knowing they voted to put a young man to death, that’s a very tall order to ask of somebody,” he said.
If Holt is convicted and if the death penalty is sought, there’s a good likelihood it will be granted, but the burden is high and it would take only one juror to spare his life.
Holt is the 13th person since 2000 to be accused of killing a police officer in our region. Poplawski is the only one to receive the death penalty. Three others received life in prison.
Governor Tom Wolf has issued a moratorium on the death penalty. The last execution in Pennsylvania was carried out in 1999.