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Roland William STEELE






A.K.A.: "The Karate Killer"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Robbery
Number of victims: 3
Date of murder: June 21, 1985
Date of birth: 1947
Victims profile: Lucille Horner, 88, Minnie Warwick, 86, and Sarah Knutz. 85
Method of murder: Beating to death, "karate-style"
Location: Washington County, Pennsylvania, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on March 25, 1988

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania


opinion J-83-2003


A 39-year-old karate expert from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, Steele was convicted on three counts of first-degree murder, stemming from his brutal assaults upon elderly women in Washington County. 

Steele apparently preferred live flesh to punching bags for workouts in the martial arts, selecting victims who were helpless to defend themselves. A jury deliberated for forty-five minutes before sentencing the karate killer to death.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


Roland Steele, 38, was convicted of 3 counts of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to death for the 1985 beating deaths of 88-year-old Lucille Horner, 86-year-old Minnie Warwick and 85-year-old Sarah Knutz in East Washington, PA. They were kidnapped from a parking lot, taken to a wooded area and beaten to death, "karate-style." 

Steele was formally sentenced to death on March 25, 1988. On June 5, 1999, the state Supreme Court affirmed those sentences. Steele's petition for post-conviction relief has been pending in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County since June 1996.


Execution Warrant Signed For Pa. Murder Convict

By Harold Hayes -

Apr 22, 2009

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has signed a death warrant for Roland Steele.

Steele was in his 40s when an Erie County jury, seated in Washington County, took just 35 minutes to sentence him to death.

The date then was January 22, 1986.

The year before, he was arrested and charged with kidnapping three elderly women from the parking lot of a shopping center.

The bodies of 88-year-old Lucile Horner, 86-year-old Minnie Warrick and 85-year-old Sarah Knutz were found later in a tire dump in Cecil Township, Washington County.

Police say they were the victims of a karate-style beating.

At the time, the defendant's mother thought the jury rejected his claim he was a victim of mistaken identity, based on race.

But the Washington County District Attorney at the time, John Pettit, disagreed.

"The credit cards over by his girlfriend's brother's home - there was just so much that it wasn't like as if we were trying to convict somebody on an item or two of circumstantial evidence," said Pettit in 1986.

"There was an overwhelming amount coupled with the fact that the victim's hair was found on his clothing and that's something that's very difficult to escape," he said.

Former Governor Tom Ridge also signed a death warrant for Steele in 1999 but that was put on hold pending appeals which ran out this month.

But in the shadow of the courthouse where Steele was sentenced to death 23 years ago, some who remember the case wonder what will happen next.

"I think it's a shame that it does take that long," said John Cypher of Canonsburg. "I'm for the death penalty. Unfortunately the way things are today with everyone's rights and the way the legal system is, not surprised it took that long and wouldn't be surprised if he outlives me."

Rendell set June 18th as the date for Steele's execution.


Governor Rendell Signs Execution Warrant for Roland William Steele


April 21, 2009

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Governor Edward G. Rendell today signed an execution warrant for Roland William Steele, 62, who was sentenced to die for beating to death three women in their eighties whom he had abducted from a Washington County shopping mall in June 1985.

In January 1986, Steele was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of 88-year-old Lucille Horner, 86-year-old Minnie Warrick, and 85-year-old Sarah Knutz. Steele was formally sentenced to death in March 1988, and the state Supreme Court affirmed that judgment in June 1989.

A 1999 execution warrant issued by then-Governor Tom Ridge was stayed by the Washington County Court of Common Pleas pending the outcome of a petition for post-conviction relief. The lower court denied post-conviction relief, and the state Supreme Court affirmed that judgment in December 2008 and denied reargument in March 2009, which lifted the stay of execution.

Steele's execution by lethal injection is set for June 18. He is held at the State Correctional Institution at Greene.

Governor Rendell has now signed 86 death warrants.



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