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Cop killer Poplawski gets more time

| Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011

Richard Poplawski joked with his attorneys on Tuesday and told reporters his case isn't over during a court appearance in which a judge added an 85- to 190-year prison sentence to the death sentences he got for killing three Pittsburgh police officers.

"This is far from over. I'll be back," Poplawski, 24, said as deputies led him into Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning's courtroom. When asked what he had to say to the victims' families, he said simply: "Sorry."

Manning added his sentence for Poplawski's 25 non-murder convictions to the three death sentences a Dauphin County jury imposed in June after convicting him of the shooting deaths of three officers on April 4, 2009. The extra term would keep him behind bars should his death sentences be commuted or overturned.

Poplawski killed officers Eric G. Kelly, Stephen J. Mayhle and Paul J. Sciullo II when they responded to a 911 call about a domestic disturbance at Poplawski's mother's home in Stanton Heights.

Poplawski declined to say anything to the judge, but as he walked out of the courtroom during a break, he looked at Officer William Friburger in the gallery and called him a "hack," Friburger said. The police sniper shot Poplawski's AK-47 out of his hands during a firefight that followed the officers' killings.

"I laughed at him. I don't think that's the response he wanted," Friburger said.

Poplawski, who appeared with a shaved head, moustache and goatee, smiled and laughed with one of his lawyers during the hearing. He wore a blue prison jumpsuit and remained shackled throughout the hearing, a contrast to the shirt and tie he wore during his eight-day trial.

"These officers put themselves in harm's way to bring Richard Poplawski in alive to face this court's good justice, and there he sits, fairly basking in all the attention he has received. Without remorse, without regret, without any comprehension of how quickly he will be forgotten," Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli told Manning. "The public interest is wasted on the likes of Richard Poplawski. He just isn't worth it."

Sciullo's parents, Paul and Julia Sciullo, and Kelly's mother, Frances Kelly, attended the hearing but did not speak to reporters.

Assistant Public Defender Lisa Middleman told the judge that Poplawski was cooperative with authorities and is a "candidate for peaceful incarceration." She said Poplawski offered to plead guilty to charges if prosecutors would have dropped the death penalty. The District Attorney's Office declined.

Poplawski's mother, Margaret Poplawski, and grandmother, Catherine Scott, left without speaking to reporters.

Tranquilli included three pieces of evidence during the hearing that Manning would not let the jury see. Tranquilli played a video from the Allegheny County Jail recorded on May 8, 2009 , in which five guards dressed in riot gear and a commander took a screaming, naked Poplawski out of one jail cell and put him in another. Poplawski had removed his own clothes, Tranquilli said.

The video shows a bearded Poplawski, held in a cell for inmates who might commit suicide, yelling at guards, though Tranquilli said he was placed there to prevent harm from corrections officers or other inmates. Jail Capt. Louis Leon, the commander seen in the video, said the jail's special response team was called because Poplawski refused to take his medication, broke a camera that was placed in his cell for suicide watch and was a danger to himself.

He said a doctor ordered that Poplawski be restrained. He also said that special responses, such as the one to Poplawski, are normally recorded.

The video shows guards strapping Poplawski to a cot by his wrists and ankles, and a nurse giving him an injection in the new cell. During the confrontation, Poplawski is swearing at the officers and one officer keeps his shield on Poplawski's head.

Tranquilli said that among the screams, Poplawski yelled, "I killed three (expletive) Pittsburgh police officers, and I'd do it again."

Tranquilli also played clips of an Internet radio show, the "Eddie and PO Show," in which Poplawski talks about killing a police officer. And Tranquilli showed several of Poplawski's online postings on a white nationalist website disparaging Jews and blacks.

"I tend to think the prosecution wanted to get the full story out there for whatever benefit it was. Get it out there and let the chips fall where they may. It's a sort of catharsis," said Bruce Antkowiak, director of the criminology and law program at St. Vincent College.

"I think the prosecution had such a mountain of evidence in this case, and it was of such a shocking nature, that you want to be able to argue that if ever the death penalty verdict is appropriate, it's appropriate in this case."

house's sale on hold

The Stanton Heights house where Richard Poplawski killed three Pittsburgh police officers was scheduled for a sheriff's sale on Tuesday, but it was postponed until October.

The Fairfield Street house is owned by Poplawski's mother, Margaret Poplawski. JP Morgan Chase bank, which took action in Common Pleas Court to put the house on track for sheriff's sale, said she owes about $72,000 on the boarded-up home, including penalties and fees.

The bank previously requested that an earlier sheriff's sale, slated for April, be halted. The house has been in foreclosure since 2009.

The sale was pushed back because Margaret Poplawski's attorney was served late with the notice of sale.

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