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District attorney to seek death penalty in killing of East Liberty sisters

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 12:06 p.m.

The lawyer for an East Liberty man accused in the brutal killings of two sisters called Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s reasons for pursuing the death penalty “unique” and doesn't believe there's enough evidence to support all of the claims.

Allen Darell Wade, 43, is charged with two counts of criminal homicide, robbery and other charges in the shooting deaths of his next-door neighbors, Susan and Sarah Wolfe. Police found their bodies in the basement of their East Liberty home on Feb. 7 when co-workers reported that they did not show up for work.

Wade has been held without bail in the Allegheny County Jail since his arrest on March 5. His trial date likely will be set during a conference before Judge Edward J. Borkowski on May 23.

Zappala said he will seek the death penalty based on five aggravating factors, including that Wade killed Sarah Wolfe, 38, a psychiatrist at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Oakland, because she witnessed the murder of her sister, Susan Wolfe, 44, a teacher's aide at Hillel Academy in Squirrel Hill.

Blaine Jones, a Downtown lawyer who represented Wade at his preliminary hearing last month, said prosecutors will have to prove that first.

“That's their contention, but I haven't seen any evidence that would justify it,” Jones said.

The district attorney's office declined to comment beyond a prepared statement detailing the reasons it is seeking the death penalty.

Detectives said Sarah Wolfe's clothed body was found at the bottom of the basement steps with a blanket covering her head. Susan Wolfe was naked and face-down on a pile of clothes near a clothes washer and dryer. Both died of a gunshot in the head.

Two of the DA's reasons for seeking the death penalty rely on Wade being convicted for killing one sister and then another. He then would have been convicted of another crime for which a life sentence could be imposed and also of a previous murder. Both reasons are questionable, Jones said.

“They're taking the instant offense and parsing it,” Jones said. “It's a unique way of doing it.”

Jones said he can't argue with the other two reasons: That Wade allegedly killed the sisters during the commission of a felony and that he has a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence.

Court records show Wade has been convicted of robbery twice and carrying a firearm without a license, all felonies.

If a jury convicts Wade of first-degree murder, it will then decide whether to give him the death penalty or life in prison. The state has executed just three people since 1976, most recently Gary Heidnik of Philadelphia in 1999 for the kidnap and torture of six women, two of whom he killed. There are 191 inmates on death row in Pennsylvania.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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