The 2009 Pittsburgh police shootings was a
shootout that took place on Saturday, April 4, 2009, at 1016 Fairfield
Street in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, United States, stemming from a mother and her
22-year-old son's argument over a dog urinating in the house.
At approximately 7:11 a.m. EDT, 22-year-old Richard
Poplawski opened fire on two Pittsburgh Police officers responding to
a 9-1-1 call from Poplawski's mother, who was attempting to get the
police officers to remove her son from the home. Three police officers
were ultimately confirmed dead, and another two were seriously
According to Pittsburgh Police Chief, Nathan
Harper, Poplawski was armed with a semi-automatic AK-47-style rifle, a
shotgun and three handguns (a .357 Magnum revolver, a .380-caliber
handgun and a .45-caliber handgun), protected by a bulletproof vest,
and had been lying in wait for the officers. According to police and
witnesses, he held police at bay for four hours as the fallen officers
were left bleeding nearby, their colleagues unable to reach them. More
than 600 rounds were fired by the SWAT teams and Poplawski.
The victims were the first Pittsburgh city officers
killed in the line of duty in 18 years. The incident was the
second-deadliest attack on U.S. law enforcement since the September 11
attacks, following a March 2009 shooting in Oakland, California.
On June 28, 2011, Poplawski was sentenced to death
by lethal injection on three counts of murder in the first degree.
Richard Andrew Poplawski (born September 12, 1986)
lived with his mother and grandmother in the Stanton Heights
neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Poplawski had previously enlisted in the
United States Marine Corps, but he was discharged from boot camp after
throwing a food tray at a drill instructor.
According to friends and former acquaintances,
Poplawski was first married when he was 17. His first wife was a young
woman whom he had encountered whilst detained in a juvenile
correctional center. The marriage lasted for almost two years. His
divorce troubled him emotionally until he found a new girlfriend. This
new relationship was also very unsteady and on September 14, 2005,
Poplawski allegedly assaulted his then-girlfriend outside his home. A
month later, Poplawski allegedly violated an order of protection by
showing up at the woman's place of work. Poplawski had recently lost
his job at a glass factory, and was reportedly quite upset over the
Neighbors also reported that Poplawski was involved
in several arguments with neighbors, including a couple of fistfights,
and one incident in which he insulted a black Stanton Heights resident
by shouting a racial slur in his face.
Poplawski moved to Florida in 2006, and rented a
room in a woman's house. However, she later evicted him after her
German Shepherd disappeared while under Poplawski's care. He later
moved in with the woman's neighbor, who said that he spoke lovingly
about his grandmother but seemed disappointed in his mother.
After he returned home, he adopted two pit bull
mixes from a local animal shelter, one of which would later urinate on
his mother's carpet, triggering the April 4 shootings.
Edward Perkovic, a friend of Poplawski, said the
gunman feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and "didn't like
our rights being infringed upon". Perkovic also stated that Poplawski
"didn't like the Zionists controlling the media and controlling, you
know, our freedom of speech" and that "He didn't like the control of
the guns that was about to happen. He believed everything our
forefathers put before us and thought that it was being distorted."
Another longtime friend, Aaron Vire, said that Poplawski feared
President Obama was going to take away his rights.
Poplawski posted that he believed that "the federal
government, mainstream media, and banking system in these United
States are strongly under the influence of -- if not completely
controlled by -- Zionist interest. An economic collapse of the
financial system is inevitable, bringing with it some degree of civil
unrest if not outright balkanization of the continental US,
civil/revolutionary/racial war . . . This collapse is likely
engineered by the elite Jewish powers that be in order to make for a
power and asset grab."
On March 13, 2009, Poplawski wrote on a white
supremacist website that "ZOG (Zionist-occupied government) is... One
can read the list of significant persons in government and in major
corporations and see who is pulling the strings. One can observe the
policies and final products and should walk away with little doubt
there is Zionist occupation and -- after some further research &
critical thinking -- will discover their insidious intentions."
Mark Potok, a representative of the Southern
Poverty Law Center (SPLC) which had reviewed Poplawski's internet
postings, stated that "he believed the Jews were coming, the Jews
controlled society, you know, we're all under the thumb of Zionists
and so on." A report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) stated
that Poplawski had expressed frustration that "not enough attention
was being focused on the evil of Jews."
Poplawski was a member of Stormfront, a white
supremacist website, where he was a frequent visitor and poster. Poplawski had reportedly posted a picture of his
tattoo, a "deliberately Americanized version of the iron eagle" to the
website, as well as a link to a YouTube video of Congressman Ron Paul
discussing with Fox News host Glenn Beck the rumored existence of FEMA-managed
concentration camps. Poplawski last logged into Stormfront at 3:32
a.m. Saturday, only hours before the shootings.
also frequently visited and occasionally posted on Alex Jones'
Infowars website. One of his frustrations with the site, though, was
that it supposedly didn't focus enough on the nefarious roles played
by Jews in all these conspiracies. "For being such huge players in the
endgame," he observed in a March 29, 2009, posting to Infowars, "too
many 'infowarriors' are surprisingly unfamiliar with the Zionists." Among Poplawski's "last few links from MySpace"
were a Myers-Briggs personality test, and a psychotherapy chart.
At 7:03 a.m. EDT, Officers Paul Sciullo and Stephen
Mayhle of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police responded to a 9-1-1 call
from Poplawski's mother over a domestic disturbance. When the officers
arrived at the scene, the mother answered the door, explaining that
she wanted Poplawski out of the house. As the two officers entered the
home, Poplawski was reportedly wearing a bulletproof vest and "lying
in wait". Sciullo was immediately shot in the head. Almost immediately
thereafter, Officer Mayhle was also shot in the head.
Officer Eric Kelly, on his way home after
completing his overnight shift, heard the call for help and arrived at
the scene. Poplawski then shot Kelly as he was attempting to aid
Sciullo and Mayhle. Officer Timothy McManaway arrived at the scene and
was shot in the hand while attempting to pull Kelly to safety, after
he saw Kelly wave at him. McManaway sought cover and returned fire.
Another officer, Brian Jones, suffered a broken leg when a fence he
was climbing collapsed. A short time later, more officers, SWAT team
members, and other law enforcement officers arrived and were fired on
A neighbor who witnessed the incident reported
"They couldn't get the scene secure enough to get to them. They were
just lying there bleeding, by the time they secured the scene enough
to get to them, it was way too late."
The standoff with police lasted for approximately
four hours. Poplawski's friend Edward Perkovic said he got a call at
work from Poplawski during which he said, "Eddie, I am going to die
today. ... Tell your family I love them and I love you." Perkovic said
"I heard gunshots and he hung up. ... He sounded like he was in pain,
like he got shot." According to the sources, Poplawski was shot in the
leg before surrendering to authorities. Poplawski was transported to
UPMC Presbyterian after the shooting where he was treated under
custody. On April 5, Poplawski was moved from the hospital to the
Allegheny County Jail.
The three deceased officers were:
Officer Eric G. Kelly, age 41, a 14-year veteran of
the force, survived by his wife, three daughters, mother, and sister;
Officer Stephen J. Mayhle, age 29, a two-year veteran of the force,
survived by his wife, two daughters, parents, and two brothers;
Officer Paul J. Sciullo, II, age 37, a two-year veteran of the force,
survived by his parents, two sisters, and fiancée.
The two wounded officers were:
Officer Timothy McManaway, age 46, a 14-year
veteran of the force; and
Officer Brian Jones, age 37, a three-year veteran of the force.
A final radio roll call for the three officers
killed was held following the shooting on Saturday night, April 4. On
April 6, Governor Ed Rendell announced that flags at all state
buildings would be flown at half-staff until the end of the week.
Afterward, it was revealed that although
Poplawski's mother had told the 9-1-1 operator that Poplawski owned
guns, the operator typed "no weapons" on her computer screen, relaying
the information to the police dispatcher.
When the operator asked Ms. Poplawski if her son had weapons, she responded yes, and stated that
they were all legal. When asked to confirm that she was not being
threatened with the guns, Ms. Poplawski did not answer, instead
repeating that she wanted her son out of the house. Management in the
Allegheny County response center contend that the dispatcher meant to
relay that no weapons were involved in the dispute.
The county's Chief for Emergency Services stated
that the 9-1-1 operator had been on the job for less than a year,
including training, and was placed on administrative leave and offered
According to police interviewing Poplawski while
imprisoned, he believed Mayhle to be faking his death, and so shot him
again. He told police that he planned for police to kill him, but
changed his mind and surrendered, hoping he could write a book in
Interviewers described Poplawski as unremorseful with a "cold
demeanor". In the hours after the standoff ended and during
interviews with detectives, Poplawski bragged about his actions,
telling them he thought he might have killed as many as five officers.
Officers Kelly, Mayhle, and Sciullo lay in repose
at the Pittsburgh City-County Building from April 8 until 10:00 a.m.
April 9. Thousands of citizens and law enforcement officers visited
the caskets, including representatives from the DC Metro Police,
Montgomery County, Maryland, Cobb County, Georgia police, and 49
Troopers from the New Jersey State Police.
Beginning at 10:00
a.m. on Thursday, April 9, the caskets were carried to three hearses,
and a procession of an estimated 1,000 police vehicles travelled,
along with the Pittsburgh Firefighters Memorial; Cleveland Police and
Pittsburgh Police Dept. Pipes and Drums; Pittsburgh Fire Dept. Pipes
and Drums; NYPD Emerald Society Pipes and Drums; Philadelphia Police
and Fire Pipes and Drums; Camden County NJ Emerald Society Pipes and
Drums; Union County NJ Pipes and Drums; Washington D.C. Regional Pipes
and Drums; Cleveland Pipes and Drums; Atlantic County (NJ) Pipes and
Drums; and many more pipe bands, from the City-County Building along
the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway to the University of
Pittsburgh's Petersen Events Center. Hundreds of officers had been
standing at attention outside the center for nearly two hours. Guests
at the ceremony included FBI Director Robert Mueller; Allegheny County
District Attorney Steven Zappala; county executive Dan Onorato;
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell; state Attorney General Tom Corbett;
U.S. Senator Bob Casey; former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nathan
Harper;and former chief Robert McNeilly.
On April 21, 2010, a spokesman for Allegheny County
District Attorney Stephen Zappala announced that he would seek the
death penalty for Poplawski, whose formal arraignment took place on
June 1. A county judge ordered police investigators, attorneys, court
and jail personnel to not discuss the case with the media.
Although Pennsylvania has the death penalty on the
books, and has hundreds of convicted murderers on death row, the last
time the state actually executed anyone was in 1999. Since the state
reinstated the death penalty in 1978, only three people have been
executed, and all three had waived their appeal rights. Pennsylvania
has never executed anyone who has taken full advantage of the appeal
process. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, if Poplawski
chooses to take full advantage of the appeal process, then even if he
is sentenced to death, "it may not happen".
During the first week of June 2009, the case was
officially assigned to Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning. On June
5, Manning ordered the attorneys to exchange discovery materials
immediately, and scheduled an August 13 hearing to "address any
outstanding discovery issues." Afterward, a date was to be set to hear
pretrial motions, followed by a trial date.
Although cases are usually assigned to judges at
random, an exception is made for cases that could possibly involve the
death penalty. Manning was assigned to this case because during his 20
years as a judge, he has heard nearly two dozen cases where the death
penalty was a possibility, including the 2001 trial of Richard S.
Baumhammers, who was sentenced to death for murdering five people.
Poplawski's trial was originally scheduled to start
on October 12, 2010, but was delayed until April 25, 2011, due to a
defense request for additional time to address the death penalty
aspect of the case.
The trial began on June 20, 2011. On June 28, 2011
Poplawski was sentenced to death after being found guilty by the jury
a few days before. On Saturday, June 25, 2011, the jury delivered a
verdict of guilty on three counts of first-degree homicide and all
other counts, after deliberating for approximately 4 hours.
On June 28, 2011, Poplawski was sentenced to three
counts of death by lethal injection.
An execution date for Poplawski was set for March
3, 2017, but on February 16, 2017 a judge issued an order to stay the
execution until courts rule on Poplawski's petition claiming that his
attorneys provided ineffective assistance of counsel. No new execution
date was set.
Poplawski, convicted of killing 3 police
officers, gets stay of execution
By Paula Reed Ward - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February 16, 2017
A judge on Thursday stayed the March 3 execution
date for the man convicted of killing three Pittsburgh police officers
Richard Poplawski, 30, appeared in court for just a
few minutes as Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, who presided
over his trial in June 2011, appointed new counsel to represent
Poplawski in his Post-Conviction Relief Act petition.
The judge set a May 20 deadline for the attorneys,
Owen Seman and Brian Sichko, to file an amended petition. Poplawski
filed one on his own earlier this week, alleging multiple instances of
ineffective assistance of counsel, including for his trial attorneys’
failure to object when the prosecutor referred to Poplawski as a
“dog,” “bum,” “coward,” and racist.
Officers Paul J. Sciullo II, Stephen J. Mayhle and
Eric G. Kelly were killed April 4, 2009, after they responded to
Poplawski’s home in Stanton Heights for a domestic dispute with his
mother. Members of the officers’ families sat in the first row of the
gallery in the courtroom Thursday afternoon, along with detectives who
worked the initial case and Lisa Pellegrini, the assistant district
attorney who was co-counsel for the prosecution during his trial.
After appointing counsel for Poplawski, Judge
Manning addressed the issue of the request for a stay of execution.
“Loath though I may be to grant that, it’s required
... pending disposition of Mr. Poplawski’s petition,” he said.
Poplawski, wearing the black and white stripes
designating him as a death row inmate, has grown his hair longer and
had mutton-chop sideburns and a mustache. He shouted, “Let’s go Pens,”
as he was led past reporters prior to his hearing.
'Evil' face of a condemned man: Killer given
death sentence for shooting dead three police officers
By Lee Moran -
June 29, 2011
A gunman who lay in wait and murdered three police
officers responding to a domestic violence call at his house has been
sentenced to death.
Richard Poplawski, wearing a bulletproof vest, met
the officers at his doorway and shot two of them in the head - gunning
down a third who later came to their aid.
His mother called out the police when an argument
about his puppies urinating on the floor escalated out of control.
The killer only surrendered because he was bleeding
from a leg wound inflicted by one of the officers during the horrific
four-hour gun battle on his quiet Pittsburgh street.
A Pittsburgh jury convicted the 24-year-old on
Saturday of three counts of first-degree murder, and 25 lesser crimes,
for his actions on April 4, 2009.
The three slain officers were Eric Kelly, 41,
Stephen Mayhle, 29, and Paul Sciullo II, 37.
Kelly had been on the force for 14 years, while
Mayhle and Sciullo had been officers for two years each.
Another officer, Timothy McManaway, was shot in the
hand and a fifth broke his leg on a fence.
A mass of rank-and-file officers congregated
outside the courtroom during the gunman's sentencing on Tuesday.
'This was an opportunity for them to see the face
of Richard Poplawski which, for us, was the face of evil,' said
Assistant Chief Paul Donaldson.
The jury spent just 90 minutes deliberating whether
to sentence Poplawski to death or life in prison.
They decided to send him to death row, where he
will wait until the governor signs a warrant for him to die by lethal
Afterwards, sheriff's deputies guarded the slain
officers' family members, who told the media through the district
attorney's office that they did not wish to comment.
Despite that, Clarence Peays, Kelly's
brother-in-law, spoke briefly with The Associated Press, saying he
thought the swift verdict sent a message.
The 48-year-old said: 'It
shows me that the evidence was overwhelming.
It's going to take time to have closure, but with time it will heal.'
The jury rejected attorney for the penalty phase of
the trial William Brennan's defence that he had no previous criminal
record and had been raised in a dysfunctional home.
Brennan tried to suggest Poplawski was warped by having grandfather
Charles Scott, who died earlier this year, as his 'sole male role
model' after his parents divorced when he was a toddler.
Witnesses testified his grandfather drank cases of beer daily and was
a racist who threatened people with guns.
He was said to have raped one of his sisters-in-law and cruelly
treated his daughter, Poplawski's mother.
Margaret Poplawski then developed a history of psychological problems,
which the relatives attributed to her father, and had tried to kill
herself several times.
But Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Mark Tranquilli blunted
the testimony by saying most of Scott's violent behaviour happened
before Poplawski was born.
Reports at the time of the incident, when he peppered officers with
fire from his 12-gauge shotgun, .357 Magnum and AK-47 assault rifle,
said more than 100 rounds were fired by elite police teams and
Friends revealed he had only recently been laid off from his job at a
glass factory, and had previously been kicked out of a Marines boot
camp after throwing a food tray at a drill sergeant.
Poplawski will be sentenced for the remainder of his charges,
including nine counts each of attempted murder and assault on a law
officer, on September 6.
Even though he has been sentenced to death, public defender Lisa
Middleman said Poplawski would appeal, which could delay the execution
for a number of years.
Poplawski guilty on all counts
By Sadie Gurman, Rich Lord and Michael A. Fuoco -
June 25, 2011
Highlights of Day 6 of the trial of Richard
Poplawski, charged with killing Pittsburgh police Officers Eric Kelly,
Paul Sciullo Jr. and Stephen Mayhle in April 2009:
After Richard Poplawski was found guilty on all 28
counts against him, including three counts of first-degree murder,
Pittsburgh police sprang into action.
They lined one wall of the Courthouse and stood in
silent scorn as sheriff's deputies marched the puffy-faced,
glazed-eyed defendant past in chains.
Then they shifted to another hallway, to greet the
families of the slain officers with hugs.
They were silent as public defender Lisa Middleman
exited the courtroom.
The jury, Ms. Middleman said, "came to the decision
that they thought was appropriate based on the evidence."
As Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson walked down the
courthouse stairs, he said the bureau and the entire region's law
enforcement got what it expected.
"It has taken us two long years to get to this
point, and we are near the end of it," he said. "We'll finally have
some finality and hopefully we'll be able to begin to put this behind
Outside of the courthouse, the defendant's mother,
Margaret Poplawski, was smarting from being told to leave the
courtroom after the verdict was announced.
She said she has been treated with disrespect all
week, and didn't know why. "Because I continue to love him? ... I did
not want this for anybody. I did not want this for the community. I
did not want this for the city of Pittsburgh.
"I called them for help."
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A.
Manning's courtroom, which was full of police officers, relatives and
spectators, was silent as the jury announced its verdict just before
8:30 p.m. Mr. Poplawski, too, was quiet as he exited the room. The
judge had a sheriff's deputy escort Mr. Poplawski's mother out of the
room just after the verdict. He later said he feared she was on the
verge of an outburst.
Mr. Poplawski's grandmother and other relatives
were also in the courtroom, but said nothing as they left.
The same group of jurors, five women and seven men
who were brought here from Dauphin County due to intense pretrial
publicity, now must decide whether Mr. Poplawski should spend life in
prison or die by lethal injection. That penalty phase will begin
The jury returned a verdict of guilty on
first-degree homicide and all other charges around 8:20 p.m.
The jury is returning to the courtroom, and a
verdict is expected within a few minutes.
Jurors just returned to the courtroom briefly to
ask Judge Manning two questions: they wanted to know if they could see
or hear Officer Stephen Mescan's testimony regarding the officers in
the armored vehicle and if they could have the names of the officers
involved in the efforts to reach Officer Mayhle.
To the first question, the judge told them they are
not allowed to have transcripts of witness testimony in the jury room.
To the second, he could only tell that the names of the officers may
be in the exhibits, which they can review.
The jurors told Judge Manning they would continue
deliberating before dinner.
After the jury began its deliberations, Deputy
District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli told reporters outside the
courtroom that police and prosecutors "exhaustively researched"
whether Mr. Poplawski's mother should be charged with a crime but
found no evidence that she should be.
He said Margaret Poplawski did one thing wrong by
not calling 911 operaters to warn them they her son was strapping on a
bullet-proof vest, grabbing guns and "readying for battle."
Still, he added, she was not legally obligated to
do so, though she may have had a moral duty.
He said he warned the officers' families that the
trial would be difficult and trying for them and plans to call upon
them to share intimate stories of their loss with jurors if the
capital case reaches the penalty phase.
The jury has begun deliberations in the trial of
Richard Poplawski. Judge Manning charged the jury after a break, and
deliberations began shortly after 4 p.m.
Deputy District Attorney Mark Tranquilli wrapped up
more than an hour's worth of emotionally charged closing arguments
earlier this afternoon in which he took jurors step by step through
the crime, speaking of Mr. Poplawski's choices to kill and chances to
stop as the violence unfolded over four hours.
While Defense Attorney Lisa Middleman argued
moments before that her client was only trying to keep officers from
coming into his house, Mr. Tranquilli said he took decisive action to
kill three of them when he dressed himself in a bullet-proof vest and
grabbed his weapons.
Ambushing Officer Sciullo, engaging Officer Mayhle
in a gunfight and shooting him while he was down, assassinating
Officer Kelly and "engaging an armored vehicle full of SWAT members
trying to kill them ... those are all choices," Mr. Tranquilli said.
"He had chances to just stop. He had chances to just let the officers
go home to their families. He had chances to just do what his mother
told him to do and get out of the house. He had chances to stop this
continuum of death. He didn't."
The officers' relatives sobbed quietly as Mr.
Tranquilli delivered his message, showing jurors the same grisly crime
scene and autopsy photos he presented during five days of testimony,
describing again the officers "heroic" efforts to bring down the
gunman and save their downed comrades.
He said jurors should convict Mr. Poplawski on
first-degree murder in the slayings of the three officers and convict
him on more than two dozen other counts related to his firing upon
SWAT officers and shooting another patrolman in the hand.
"Every single one of those guys was put in harm's
way by Richard Poplawski,and he wanted to kill every single one of
them," Mr. Tranquilli said. "He awaits your good judgment."
Mr. Tranquilli also said Ms. Middleman's allusions
that Mr. Poplawski's mother was also involved in the shooting are
false, saying "what evidence do we have that Mrs. Poplawski did
anything to these police officers other than call them?" He noted that
Mr. Poplawski, in interviews and phone calls with 911 employees and
police, took responsibility for the violence without once mentioning
his mother. The DNA found on the guns belonged to him and no one else,
he continued, calling Ms. Middleman's suggestions "something merely to
cause a distraction."
As the courtroom emptied, a line of officers, each
of whom played a role in the April 4 incident, accepted embraces and
handshakes from the families, tears in their eyes. As Mr. Tranquilli
passed, they each gave him a pat on the back.
After Judge Manning charges the jury later this
afternoon, the jury will begin to deilberate.
If the verdict is guilty of first-degree homicide,
the case will move to the penalty phase, in which the jury will decide
on whether to give the death penalty. There is no possibility of
parole for first-degree murder in Pennsylvania, so the jury's choices
would be death or life without parole.
The prosecution finished its closing shortly after
2 p.m. today. It took about 75 minutes, and the judge then told the
jury they'd have an hour break before he charges them in the case.
Defense attorney Lisa Middleman told jurors that
they should find her client guilty of numerous crimes in his shootout
with police, including attempted homicide, but should not find him
guilty of first-degree homicide in the three officers' deaths,
suggesting Mr. Poplawski's mother may have been involved in the
shootings of two of them.
During her hour-long closing, Ms. Middleman said
there was no doubt Mr. Poplawski had fatally shot Officer Eric Kelly
but suggested that was not his intent. Instead, she offered, he was
shooting at Officer Kelly's car and had no "specific intent," to kill
him, which is necessary for a first-degree conviction. She said her
client was only trying to keep police from coming into his house.
As for the deaths of Officers Paul J. Scuillo II
and Stephen J. Mayhle, she said there were holes in the prosecution's
case about how they came to be fatally wounded.
"There are only two people who know what happened
in that house other than the people who were killed," she said. "What
do you infer from the prosecution not calling Margaret Poplawski as a
witness in this case?
"Something so sick was going on in that house on
April 4 and for years before that... A mental illness component was
going on in that house."
She said Mrs. Poplawski's behavior was "bizarre"
and the prosecution has made a "dangerous assumption in this case to
treat Margaret Poplawski as a victim. They never tested her hands for
gunshot residue, they never got her DNA, they never tested her
"They have nothing with which to explore the
possibility she was involved in this incident. This is the lack of
evidence that should cause you to pause and hesitate."
She said what is not known is how Mrs. Poplawski's
demeanor may have changed between 7:05 a.m., when she called 911 to
report a domestic disturbance with her son, and six minutes later when
officers Scuillo and Mayhle arrived.
"Did she become more of a threat to police?" she
Ms. Middleman also suggested that, through no fault
of their own, the SWAT team compromised evidence when it went into the
house to arrest Mr. Poplawski, and officers who testified during the
trial were understandably emotional, which could have colored their
"You should scrutinize the evidence in this
case...If you don't know what the truth is, you cannot convict."
There were about 35 Pittsburgh police officers in
uniform, as well as a K-9 officer, in the courtroom for overflow
observers where a video feed of the trial is being shown.
The prosecution is now making its closing argument.
The fate of Richard Poplawski could go to the jury
later today after the defense opened this morning with a surprise
twist and called no witnesses despite indicating previously it would
present a half-day's worth of testimony.
Instead, defense attorney Lisa Middleman admitted
exhibits into evidence and then rested without calling a single
witness in the capital case. By contrast, the prosecution, which
rested Friday, presented 41 witnesses over five days in its effort to
show Mr. Poplawski killed three Pittsburgh police officers and wounded
a fourth on April 4, 2009, at his Stanton Heights home.
Ms. Middleman admitted into evidence 19 photographs
of the crime scene, which jurors passed among each other. The images
she showed the jury were of various aspects of the crime scene,
including a bloody bootprint, a picture of a SWAT armored vehicle
parked over a pool of blood at the front of the home and several
pictures of a food stockpile Mr. Poplawski kept in the house.
It's unclear how Ms. Middleman might use the images
in her arguments.
Judge Jeffrey A. Manning called Mr. Poplawski
forward and told him it was his right to call character witnesses on
his behalf. He said he understood. The judge asked him whether he was
on any drugs that would influence his decision, and he replied that he
Closing arguments in the trial, which began Monday,
are slated to begin at 11:45 a.m when the jury returns from a recess.
Jurors will begin deliberating after instructions from Judge Manning.
Should the jurors, who are from Dauphin County,
return a first-degree murder conviction, the trial would then move
into the penalty phase in which the panel must decide whether Mr.
Poplawski should be sentenced to death.
Officers Paul J. Scuillo II, Stephen J. Mayle and
Eric G. Kelly were killed when they responded to the Poplawski home at
1016 Fairfield St. for a domestic call from Mr. Poplawski's mother.The
gallery was packed with members of both the officers' families and Mr.
Poplawski's. He made no eye contact with them as sheriff's deputies
escorted him from the courtroom.
Poplawski 911 Call: 'I'm Lying In A Pool Of My
June 21, 2011
PITTSBURGH - A Pittsburgh man charged in the deaths
of three police officers acknowledged his role in the shootings during
phone conversations with a 911 dispatcher and a police negotiator, as
well as a friend who happened to call during the carnage, according to
recordings and testimony presented by prosecutors during his trial.
"I want to give myself up because I'm lying in a
pool of my blood and I can't move," Richard Poplawski, 24, told an
Allegheny County 911 operator on April 4, 2009, after a police sniper
wounded him in the leg as he held police at bay after the deaths of
the officers who responded when his mother called to report that they
"I'm not shooting any more cops because my weapons
are out of ammunition and disabled," he said, according to the
recording played for the jury Tuesday on the second day of Poplawski's
capital murder trial.
Poplawski's rambling and sometimes bizarre 911 call
-- at one point, he told a dispatcher that he had just hung up on a
bill collector who happened to call during the ordeal -- was
eventually transferred to Sgt. Craig Campbell, a police negotiator
whose recorded 50-minute conversation was also played in court.
"I don't want to end any more officers' lives,"
Poplawski told Campbell, who developed a calm rapport by calling
Poplawski "pal" and "buddy." Campbell was coaxing Poplawski to crawl
from the bedroom, where he was shot, to a front room where a SWAT team
could see him raise his hands in front of a shot-out picture window.
"I'm not going to shoot any more innocent
officers," Poplawski assured Campbell.
Campbell tracked Poplawski's progress inside the
house by having Poplawski describe what he saw in the house -- most
notably, the body of Officer Paul Sciullo II laying in the front
doorway where, prosecutors contend, he was gunned down when answering
Margaret Poplawski's dispute call about 7:15 a.m.
Campbell kept telling Poplawski to put his hands in
the air near a window or the door so officers knew he was unarmed. As
Poplawski moved toward the living room, Campbell asked him what he was
seeing so officers knew where he was.
"I see a (expletive) cop on the ground and an
exercise machine," Poplawski said.
Members of the SWAT team said Poplawski eventually
walked out of the home with his hands up.
Prosecutors are seeking a first-degree murder
conviction in the deaths of Sciullo and two other officers, including
Stephen Mayhle, who backed up Sciullo and managed to fire at Poplawski
before being killed. The third officer killed, Eric Kelly, had arrived
home -- about two blocks from Poplawski's residence -- after an
overnight shift but went to help the others when he heard radio calls
about the shootings.
Poplawski's public defender, Lisa Middleman, has
stopped short of denying his role in the shootings but told the jury
in her opening statement that some witnesses and physical evidence
will contradict the police version of events. Police contend that
Poplawski was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, a .357 Magnum, and an
AK-47 assault rifle, though Middleman has suggested that the rifle
either wasn't used or played only a limited role.
But testimony about the phone calls Tuesday
appeared to support several key aspects of the police version of
Michael Bogert, then a 16-year-old friend of
Poplawski's -- and, coincidentally, the son of a city police officer
-- testified that he called Poplawski's cell phone after friends told
him that TV news stations were reporting a shooting in his
"Pop, what are you doing?" Bogert said he asked
when Poplawski answered, about 45 minutes before the armed standoff
"Nothing. I got shot, I shot three cops," Bogert
said Poplawski told him. "I'm probably going to bleed to death and go
to jail for the rest of my life."
After Poplawski called 911, he complained to
Campbell that his leg wound made it hard for him to move to an area of
the house where he could safely be seen by SWAT officers outside.
Asked if he had anything he could wave in front of a window as a
signal, Poplawski cursed back saying, "I got a (double-expletive)
slipper! I can't show you my hands, I can't (expletive) do it."
In an effort to convince Campbell that he was now
unarmed, Poplawski went on to say, "Someone shot that AK and it's
completely" wrecked --though he used yet another expletive to express
Earlier Tuesday, SWAT sniper William Friburger
testified that he had shot some kind of rifle barrel protruding from
the curtains of the bedroom where Poplawski was wounded. Middleman had
tried to cast doubt on Friburger's suggestion that the gun was likely
the AK-47, based on what he could see of the barrel.
Poplawski surrendered a short time later, telling
the negotiator, "You know, I'm a good kid, officer," and offering an
apology of sorts.
"This is really an unfortunate occurrence, sir."
Gunman Kills 3 Police Officers in Pittsburgh
Liz Robbins and Sean D. Hamill - The New York Times
April 4, 2009
PITTSBURGH — In a scene that neighbors described as
a war zone, a gunman fatally shot three police officers on Saturday
morning as they responded to a domestic dispute between a mother and
Chief Nathan Harper of the Pittsburgh police said
the gunman, Richard Poplawski, 22, surrendered after a nearly
four-hour standoff with SWAT team officers.
“We have never had to lose three officers in the
line of duty in one call,” Chief Harper said at a news conference in
the lobby of police headquarters on the North Side of the city.
The American flag and the Pittsburgh flag flew at
half-staff just outside the building to honor the slain officers. They
were Eric Kelly, a 14-year veteran of the force and married father of
three daughters, and a pair of two-year department veterans, partners
Stephen Mayhle, a married father of two daughters, and Paul Sciullo
III, who was engaged to be married.
“No matter how many years they had on,” Chief
Harper said, “they paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
The episode began around 7 a.m. in the Stanton
Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh, a blue-collar and middle class
area made up mostly of two-story single-family brick houses but also
of ranch houses like the one where Mr. Poplawski lived with his
mother, Margaret Poplawski, 41.
The neighborhood is home to many of the city’s
firefighters and police officers, including Officer Kelly, who lived
just four blocks away from the Poplawski home.
Officer Kelly had just ended his shift at 7:05 a.m.
and was almost home when he heard that Officers Mayhle and Sciullo
were responding to a domestic dispute nearby, said Deputy Chief Paul
Donaldson, who wore a black band of mourning over his badge.
Chief Harper said the police had been called to the
home at least twice before for domestic problems; neighbors said the
visits were much more frequent — at least a half dozen calls in recent
years when Mr. Poplawski and his mother got into fights.
Typically, the police “would come and be the
peacemaker, and it would be over,” said Geraldine Lejpras, who lives
across the street from the Poplawskis. “But not this time.”
Unknowingly, the officers walked into a deadly
trap. Mr. Poplawski, wearing a bullet-proof vest, was armed with an
AK-47 rifle, a .22 long rifle and a pistol.
Officer Sciullo was the first to the door, with his
partner, Officer Mayhle, standing behind him and Officer Kelly just
coming onto the scene.
When the door opened, Officer Sciullo was
“immediately met with gunfire” and fatally shot in the head, Chief
Harper said. Another shot struck Officer Mayhle in the head, also
A neighbor, Michele Ostrowski, said she saw the
scene unfold when Officer Kelly arrived. “He got out of the car and I
saw him get shot and he landed on the sidewalk,” Ms. Ostrowski said in
a telephone interview, her voice shaking.
Officer Kelly, who was critically wounded, managed
to call for assistance. The next officer to arrive, Timothy McManaway,
was shot in the hand as he rushed to help Officer Kelly, though he
managed to fire at Mr. Poplawski, possibly wounding him in the leg.
For the next four hours, neighbors reported
intermittent gunfire that could often last for a minute as both sides
exchanged hundreds of shots, with Mr. Poplawski shooting from the
bedroom window as his mother, who made the 911 call, took refuge in
the basement of the home.
“It sounded like an actual war zone,” said Georgia
Marciniak, who lives just behind the Poplawskis’ home. “It was
A fifth officer, Brian Jones, was trying to slip
behind the house when he broke his leg climbing a fence, Chief Harper
A neighbor directly across the street, Johann
Devinney, said she saw the first two officers lying on the ground the
moment she opened her front door just after 7 a.m. She quickly shut
the door and hid with her husband in the back of the house.
Officers set up in the Devinneys’ yard as well as
at the house of Ms. Ostrowski, who lives cater-corner to the
Poplawskis. The police used the Ostrowskis’ Toyota Camry, which was
parked in the driveway, as a shield. She said it was riddled with
At some point during the standoff, Mr. Poplawski’s
mother left the house, Ms. Devinney said, adding that she heard her
shouting, “What are you doing with my son?”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on its Web
site that Mr. Poplawski had called a friend and former high school
classmate, Edward Perkovic, from the scene around 8:30 a.m. The
newspaper reported Mr. Perkovic recounting what Mr. Poplawski had told
him: “Eddie, I’m going to die today. Tell your family and friends I
love them. This is probably the end.”
About 11 a.m., the police led Mr. Poplawski from
the house in handcuffs. Ms. Ostrowski said his thigh and right
shoulder were bloodied.
Neighbors said Mr. Poplawski had been kicked out of
North Catholic High School and then was dishonorably discharged from
the Marines three years ago, and had worked a series of short-term
jobs in recent years.
But no one could explain why he did what he did on
“I’d like to understand why,” Deputy Chief
Donaldson said. “It’s senseless.”
The killing spree here came less than a day after a
gunman murdered 13 people at an immigrant services center in
Binghamton, N.Y., before killing himself, and two weeks after a
parolee shot and killed four police officers in Oakland, Calif.
Chief Harper said Pittsburgh was generally
unaccustomed to this type of violence but had recently endured a spate
of gang-related activities.
Councilman Doug Shields said he had been attending
a rally at Heinz Field calling for peace in some of the city’s more
violent neighborhoods when he learned of the killings.
“This event certainly puts a whole different light
on that rally,” Mr. Shields said. “What can we do other than pray for
the dead and those were hurt?
“Someone with an AK-47 today was angry enough to
use it. It makes me want to be sure we’re reaching out to the