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Lesko death warrant signed; execution not likely to happen soon

Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday signed a death warrant for convicted cop killer John Lesko, who has faced the threat of execution since he was sentenced in 1981 for the "kill for thrill" spree that left four people dead.

Lesko is scheduled to be executed on Nov. 9.

The brother of one victim, Robert Nicholls of Hempfield, says it's time for Lesko and co-defendant Michael Travaglia to die.

"Yes, yes, yes," Nicholls said yesterday. "They've kept these damn guys alive for 30 years. It was senseless. Senseless."

William Nicholls was kidnapped, tortured, weighed down with rocks and thrown alive into the freezing waters of an Indiana County lake before he was fatally shot on Jan. 2, 1980.

Judge Terrence F. McVerry appointed an attorney to represent the 52-year-old former Homestead resident, who has filed a federal appeal. McVerry declined to issue a stay until Corbett signed a death warrant.

Attorney Samuel J.B. Angell of the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia told McVerry that a "death warrant is imminent" because the state appeals courts refused to hear any further arguments.

Angell said he wants to avoid the process leading up to Lesko's execution once a warrant is signed.

He said a psychiatrist will interview Lesko and officials will arrange for the disposal of his body. He will be fitted for a special jumpsuit to wear to his execution. Medical personnel will examine his veins to determine whether they can withstand a long-gauge needle used to inject the deadly chemicals into his body.

"A stay should be issued now so that (Lesko) is not needlessly subjected to these procedures," Angell wrote.

William Nicholls, who worked as a church organist, grew up in Irwin and moved to Mt. Lebanon after he graduated from St. Vincent College.

The murder spree began two days after Christmas 1979 when Lesko and Travaglia abducted Peter Levato of Pittsburgh and killed him near the Loyalhanna Dam. The pair killed Marlene Sue Newcomer on New Year's Eve after she gave them a ride.

Next, they killed Nicholls. The stolen car they were driving was stopped by Apollo Police Officer Leonard Miller; he was gunned down as Miller approached the car.

Robert Nicholls last saw his brother at Christmas 1979, just days before he was murdered.

"We always got together on Christmas Eve to exchange gifts," he recalled. "He was the life of the party. He always had something funny to say."

Robert Nicholls said his brother's murder has haunted him for 30 years.

"My dad lived through this and died. My mother lived through this and died. I'm 57 and had to live my whole life thinking about it."

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