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'Kill for thrill' shooter from Washington Twp. gets more time to appeal death sentence

| Thursday, June 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Michael Travaglia will have another three months to file an amended appeal of his death sentence for killing a police officer more than three decades ago.

Travaglia's court-appointed defense lawyer filed court documents in Westmoreland County on Wednesday claiming he needs additional time to investigate allegations of errors made during a 2005 resentencing trial.

“Following conference with the defendant, counsel has identified additional claims of err (sic) which require investigation,” wrote defense attorney Jeff Miller.

Judge John Blahovec granted the extension, giving Miller until Sept. 27 to file a formal motion for post-conviction relief.

Travaglia, 54, of Washington Township, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1981 for the Jan. 3, 1980 shooting death of Apollo police Officer Leonard C. Miller.

Following the retrial in 2005, Travaglia was again condemned to death. Gov. Tom Corbett signed a death warrant for Travaglia earlier this year, but it was stayed after Blahovec ruled a pending appeal Travaglia wrote by hand from his prison cell had to be litigated.

Miller was appointed to flesh out the potential appeal. On Wednesday, the attorney declined to discuss specifics of the case.

“I don't want to go into those things he claims there are,” Miller said. “I'll have to take a look at them.”

Travaglia and John C. Lesko, 54, of Pittsburgh's Lincoln Place neighborhood, were convicted in the “kill for thrill” murders of four people between Christmas 1979 and Jan. 3, 1980.

Miller, a 21-year-old rookie police officer, was the last man to die in the spree that left dead Peter Levato of Pittsburgh's North Side; Marlene Sue Newcomer of Leisenring, Fayette County; and William Nicholls of Mt. Lebanon.

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

Levato was the first person killed. Travaglia and Lesko forced him into a car, drove him from a Pittsburgh strip club and shot him at Loyalhanna Dam. Newcomer was killed after she picked up Travaglia and Lesko in Delmont as they hitchhiked their way home after the Levato murder.

Lesko is also on death row for Miller's murder. His case is on appeal.

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

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