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Man who killed 3 Pittsburgh police officers gets stay of execution

| Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, 4:27 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Convicted cop killer Richard Poplawski is led into the courtroom of Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning at the county courthouse Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. Poplawski was appearing in court to address his legal options in the wake of an execution warrant being signed while a moratorium on executions is in place in the state.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Detective Dale W. Canofari (left) walks with Paul 'Max' Sciullo and Sue Sciullo, mother and father of slain Pittsburgh police Officer Paul J. Sciullo II, before a hearing for convicted cop killer Richard Poplawski in the court of Judge Jeffry Manning at the Allegheny County Courthouse, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. The hearing will deal with Poplawski’s legal options in the wake of an execution warrant being signed.

Richard Poplawski on Thursday received two court-appointed attorneys and a stay of execution as he seeks to overturn his conviction for killing three Pittsburgh police officers in 2009.

Poplawski's execution date had been set for March 3.

It's common for death row inmates to file such court actions seeking a new trial, regardless of whether they're likely to succeed.

Attorneys Owen Seaman and Brian Sichko have until May 20 to file a new petition on Poplawski's behalf.

Poplawski had filed his own petition seeking new counsel, a stay of execution and, among other things, dismissal of all charges and protection from reprosecution.

Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning told Poplawski he has to decide whether he wants to continue representing himself or be appointed counsel.

“We're in a ‘what-do-you-want-now' situation,” Manning said.

Poplawski, now sporting mutton chops and collar-length hair, was clad in a state prison-issued black-and-white striped jumpsuit. His only words in the courtroom were to answer questions posed by Manning.

Seaman said that he and Sichko met with Poplawski for the first time Thursday.

“He seemed to be in relatively good spirits for someone who was slated to be executed in 2 12 weeks,” he said.

Poplawski had asked for his petition to be incorporated into any future proceedings, but Manning noted that he is not entitled to hybrid representation — in which some filings would come from Poplawski and some from his attorneys.

“We've seen his petition,” Seaman said. “We've read through it, and that's what we're going to be spending a lot of time on over the next couple months — going through all of the issues he's raised, trying to sort out what might be meritless, what might have some merit, and then we will make that decision along with (Poplawski) as to which of those issues we're really going to proceed on.”

He said the stay of execution was logical.

“You can't be executed while there is pending action,” Seaman said. “Because (Poplawski) filed this petition – it was validly filed by himself as a pro se litigant at that time — it really requires a stay.”

He stressed that this latest go-round is not an appeal – Poplawski has already appealed his conviction and sentencing to the state Supreme Court. The Post-Conviction Relief Act, which applies in this case, looks mostly at any issues pertaining to ineffective counsel.

Seaman said it's another avenue to ask for a new trial.

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's March 3 execution would likely not have come to pass.

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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