Jurors will decide this week whether Richard Poplawski will receive the death penalty or life in prison without parole for the 2009 murder of three Pittsburgh Police Officers.
The jury will weigh the prosecution’s “aggravating factors” against the defense’s “mitigating factors” when making their decision.
Deputy District Attorney Mark Tranquili says there are three reasons the death penalty is right in this case: first, Poplawski did not stop killing after the first murder; second, the three victims were all policemen; and third, many other people, including neighbors and police officers, were put at risk of death.
Defense attorney Bill Brennan says the three mitigating factors he’s arguing for are not excuses for Poplawski’s crime, but suggest he should receive a life term in prison rather than a death sentence.
Brennan says Poplawski was 21 at the time of the shooting, three years above the age line for applying the death penalty. He says Poplawski also had no prior criminal history, and the shooter had an abusive family relationship, including an “evil” and “racist” grandfather who would regularly threaten the family with guns.
Tranquili has planned for many “victim impact” witnesses to testify about the lingering effects of the crime; Brennan has planned for the gunman’s mother and grandmother to tell the jury about Poplawski's turbulent family history.
Julia Sciullo, the mother of slain Officer Paul Sciullo, was the first to testify for the prosecution. She says Officer Sciullo's death has changed her family life dramatically.
"This wonderful man, this wonderful life is now gone," says Mrs. Sciullo. "We will never have closure with this... This trial is just one of many high mountains we have to climb."
Officer Sciullo's sister, Julia Mullen, was next to speak to the jury. Mullen says Paul was the father figure to her son David, and visited her family "every single night."
"I will never again be the person I was on April 3, 2009," says Mullen.
The death penalty or a life prison term are the only possible sentences for Poplawski.