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Travaglia's wife testifies

| Friday, July 22, 2005

Frances Andrasy didn't plan on finding a husband when she began corresponding with death row inmate Michael J. Travaglia.

Although twice divorced, she wasn't desperate or lonely. She was just a hairdresser from New Kensington -- a Christian woman who found the writings of a convicted murderer "encouraging."

Slowly their relationship grew -- from letters to visits to romance -- until April 27, 1992, when Frances Andrasy became Frances Travaglia.

She testified on her husband's behalf Thursday in Westmoreland County Court -- the final witness in a day filled with testimony from corrections officers and a psychiatrist who said amphetamine abuse caused Travaglia to exhibit a psychotic disorder 25 years ago.

Testimony may wrap up as early as today in the resentencing trial for Michael Travaglia, 46, formerly of Washington Township.

Travaglia, along with John C. Lesko, murdered Apollo police officer Leonard C. Miller on Jan. 3, 1980, at the end of an eight-day "kill-for-thrill" spree that left three other people dead.

The pair were convicted and sentenced to death for Miller's killing in 1981. Both won new sentencing trials on appeal. Lesko was again sentenced to death in 1995.

Testimony in Travaglia's case began last Friday.

Frances Travaglia, 58, has retired after 40 years as a hairdresser. She now works as a caregiver for a woman with Parkinson's disease. She lives with her mother. Her father died recently.

She is soft-spoken. Defense attorney Ned Nakles Jr. had to ask her to speak louder when she began to testify.

She wears her brown hair in a short, soft style and has a penchant for wearing long skirts. During the trial she's brought along a sweater daily to combat the cold in the air-conditioned courtroom.

Frances Travaglia began her journey to marrying a killer back in 1990. Her nephew had just gone through drug rehabilitation and offered testimony on his newfound faith at her church.

A woman in the congregation approached her afterward.

"There was another man she knew whose life had been changed by his conversion," Frances Travaglia said.

She read the letters Michael Travaglia had sent to the other church member.

"They were such encouraging letters, mostly about the Lord," she said.

So she wrote him a letter, but she didn't hear back.

"He was on death watch, so he decided since he was going to be executed he didn't want to respond to the letter," she said.

But when Travaglia received a stay shortly before his scheduled execution date, he wrote back.

They met for the first time on Christmas Day 1990. She expected the "hairy, grisly" man she had seen in newspaper photographs.

When she saw him through the glass barrier, she picked up the phone to talk. "I said I was here to see Michael Travaglia, and he said, 'I am Michael Travaglia,' and I was surprised because I saw someone who looked normal and not what I saw in the paper."

Psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Noffsinger testified that Travaglia is a different man than he was when he killed Miller 25 years ago.

He said chronic amphetamine abuse caused an underlying psychotic disorder to surface, making Travaglia suffer delusional thinking at the time of Miller's murder.

But Noffsinger admitted to District Attorney John Peck that Travaglia showed no sign of psychosis during the murder of William Nicholls a few hours before Miller's killing.

Frances Travaglia did not testify to her husband's murderous past Thursday.

She told the jury romance did not come right away.

"The first feelings I felt for Michael were not love feelings," she said. "I began to admire the man he became."

Admiration turned to love. And love turned to marriage.

"We were allowed to hold hands," Frances Travaglia said of the wedding. "After the ceremony, we were allowed one kiss and then he had to go back behind the glass."

Their wedding was the only day they've ever had physical contact.

She visits him in prison every Monday. They speak every Sunday evening by telephone. And every night they set aside time to read the same passages in the Bible and say the same prayers.

"I love him with all my heart," she said.

Michael Travaglia never asks his wife for money. He uses the money he makes as a janitor at SCI Greene to pay for telephone cards to call her.

Corrections officials testified that Travaglia is a rare commodity on death row -- a capital inmate with a job.

"A select few of death row inmates have been chosen to work," said Kenneth Miller, who was the death row unit manager at SCI Greene for several years during Travaglia's time there.

Death row inmates typically spend nearly 22 hours a day in a 6- by 8-foot cell, which is sealed by a metal door with a small opening for food trays.

Miller said Travaglia was always mature and polite.

"His work skills were requested by other units," Miller said. "He was known as a good worker."

Corrections officer Dana Twaddle has known Travaglia for 10 years.

"He treats me with respect and like a human being," Twaddle said.

"Mike's the real deal," he continued. "He's a Christian."

Twaddle said despite the fact Travaglia killed a police officer he felt comfortable testifying on his behalf "because I'm telling the truth."

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