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Pennsylvania Supreme Court upholds death sentence for Indiana County man who killed 3 relatives

| Wednesday, March 30, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has affirmed the death penalty for an Indiana County man convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of his mother, sister and aunt.

A Westmoreland County jury in 2013 convicted Kevin Murphy, 55, of shooting Doris Murphy, 69; Kris Murphy, 43; and Edith Tietge, 81, at Ferguson Glass in Loyalhanna on April 23, 2009. The three women worked at the family business, which Kevin Murphy owned.

Murphy used a .22-caliber revolver to shoot each of the women in the head because they disapproved of his romantic relationship with a married woman and his desire to have her live at the family home, police said.

The jury imposed the death penalty for Doris Murphy's killing and imposed life sentences in the deaths of Kris Murphy and Tietge.

In his appeal, Murphy argued prosecutors failed to prove he was the killer and the verdicts were against the weight of the evidence.

In a 14-page opinion released Wednesday, five Supreme Court justices disagreed.

“Viewed in its totality, we find, the Commonwealth presented sufficient evidence to enable a reasonable jury to find all elements of the crimes of first-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt,” they said in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Thomas Saylor.

Jurors imposed the death penalty based on evidence Murphy “deliberately and maliciously” killed his relatives, according to the opinion, and prosecutors “plainly established ... aggravating circumstances found by the jury, given the multiple killings involved.”

In addition, the justices rejected Murphy's contention his statements to police should have been excluded from trial because he was under the influence of Valium he was given while undergoing medical treatment for a panic attack. Although a defense expert testified at a suppression hearing that the drug rendered Murphy incapable of making voluntary statements, the justices said numerous police officers described him as alert and coherent during the interview.

Murphy failed to prove a third argument, the justices said, in which he said the death sentence should be commuted to life in prison without parole because most of the evidence against him was circumstantial.

“Appellant has not developed his argument adequately for this court to contemplate granting the requested relief,” Saylor wrote in the opinion. “He ... cites to no authority preventing or limiting the use of circumstantial evidence in any phase of capital proceedings, or otherwise requiring more or greater proof than that required to satisfy the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt standard when circumstantial evidence is presented in any phase.'”

Justices Max Baer, Debra Todd, Christine Donohue and Kevin M. Dougherty joined in the opinion. Justice David N. Wecht did not participate in the proceedings.

Liz Zemba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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