Convicted cop killer Poplawski of Pittsburgh claims ineffective defense led to death sentence

Sign up for one of our email newsletters.Updated 8 hours ago Richard Poplawski is set to appear in court Thursday to make his case that ineffective defense attorneys and an unfair trial led a jury to convict him in 2011 of killing three Pittsburgh police...

Convicted cop killer Poplawski of Pittsburgh claims ineffective defense led to death sentence

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Updated 8 hours ago

Richard Poplawski is set to appear in court Thursday to make his case that ineffective defense attorneys and an unfair trial led a jury to convict him in 2011 of killing three Pittsburgh police officers.

Poplawski, who has been sentenced to death, wants all charges against him to be dismissed.

In a 144-page appeal he submitted to President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, Poplawski lays out 16 instances of what he calls his defense counsel's ineffectiveness — followed by a lengthy argument seeking to dismiss the charges and bar prosecutors from refiling them.

In April 2009, Poplawski shot and killed Officers Eric G. Kelly, Stephen J. Mayhle and Paul J. Sciullo II outside the home he shared with his mother in Stanton Heights.

When Mayhle and Sciullo arrived at Poplawski's house in response to a 911 domestic disturbance call from Poplawski's mother, Poplawski fired on the officers without warning.

Kelly rushed from a few blocks away to help the two fallen officers, but Poplawski shot and killed Kelly as well.

The city in 2011 condemned the house and razed it.

The state Supreme Court in December upheld Poplawski's conviction and death sentence, and his execution warrant was signed Jan. 17.

Poplawski is objecting to a “systematic effort to distract and divert the jury, inflame their passions and prejudices, and harass and demonize the accused,” including the prosecutor's use of words and phrases like “fallen hero,” “assassination,” “coward,” “evil” and “racist.”

Poplawski wrote that his defense — provided by the public defender's office — was ineffective because his representation did not object when prosecutors used such terms.

Poplawski has one year under state law to file post-conviction appeals. He contends he has until Oct. 3 to file any appeals. His execution is scheduled for March 3.

Poplawski's letter contends that his one-year timeframe should start over, asserting that his impending execution date created “inherent psychological stresses” that kept him from using his time to draft an appeal.

Failing that, he asked that he be appointed counsel so he can “move ahead immediately with this challenge to his convictions and sentences.”

Poplawski's execution set for March 3 likely won't happen, regardless of the appeals.

Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, using his power to postpone executions until a state task force completes a report on whether the death penalty is fair and effective.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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