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Westmoreland judge stays Travaglia execution

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 10:24 a.m.

A Westmoreland County judge on Friday issued a stay against the execution of convicted cop killer Michael Travaglia.

Judge John Blahovec ruled that there are appeals pending before him that must be resolved before a date for execution can be set.

Travaglia, 54, a former resident of Washington Township, was convicted in the “kill for thrill” murders of four people between Christmas 1979 and Jan. 3, 1980.

He and John Lesko, 54, of Lincoln Place in Pittsburgh were condemned to death for the shooting of 21-year-old rookie police Officer Leonard Miller.

The Apollo officer was the last man to die in the killing spree that also claimed the lives of Peter Levato of Pittsburgh's North Side, Marlene Sue Newcomer of Leisenring and William Nicholls of Mt. Lebanon.

Travaglia shot Miller during a traffic stop in Washington Township as the killers were driving Nicholls' stolen sport car after dumping him into a freezing Indiana County lake.

Gov. Tom Corbett this week signed a death warrant setting April 25 as the date for Travaglia to die by lethal injection.

Travaglia won a new sentencing trial.

A second jury sentenced him to death in 2005.

On Thursday, Blahovec appointed attorney Jeff Miller to handle Travaglia's latest appeal.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said the stay of execution was appropriate because Travaglia's new appeal is expected to take time to litigate.

“Certainly it's frustrating to the public and the prosecution that it has taken so long to resolve this case,” Peck said.

Janet Kelley, deputy director of communications for the governor, said Corbett would have “no comment” on the stay.

The latest appeal was a handwritten filing submitted by Travaglia to the Clerk of Courts Office from his death row cell at the state prison near Waynesburg, Greene County.

Court officials received the correspondence from Travaglia on Christmas Eve as another appeal was pending in federal court in Pittsburgh.

According to a Jan. 29 order signed by U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer, Travaglia did not oppose dismissal of the federal appeal while his state appeal before Blahovec is heard.

Travaglia will then be permitted to re-file his federal appeal, according to Fischer.

Miller is expected to file an amended appeal on Travaglia's behalf. Peck will then have two months to respond.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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