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Shootings of police admitted in phone calls to friend, 911

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011
 

Richard Poplawski admitted in phone calls to a friend and 911 dispatchers that he was killing police officers at his home, jurors in his capital murder case learned on Tuesday.

"I shot three cops," Michael Bogert, 18, testified that Poplawski told him in a phone call before he surrendered. "I got shot. I'm probably going to bleed to death, or go to jail for the rest of my life."

The testimony could have been more damning for Poplawski, 24, charged with killing the Pittsburgh officers at his Stanton Heights home on April 4, 2009. In the moments after his mother, Margaret Poplawski, fled her home, she told police they "should have killed her son; he's a cop-killer; and that she didn't have anything to do with this," according to city SWAT Officer Joseph Novakowski.

Defense attorney Lisa Middleman objected to the jury's hearing the remarks, and Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning ruled they would not after hearing Novakowski's testimony before the jury entered the courtroom.

"She said that he was an (expletive) and that she couldn't believe he shot cops," Novakowski told the judge. "She began to rant and make these comments. 'You should have killed him. He's a cop-killer. I have no idea why he did this. He's an (expletive).' "

On the second day of Poplawski's trial in the Allegheny County Courthouse, the jury from Dauphin County heard witnesses recount attempts to rescue fallen officers and recordings of a 40-minute conversation between the accused and a police negotiator.

Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli called nine witnesses to describe the chaotic morning when police say Poplawski fatally shot Officers Eric G. Kelly, 41, Stephen J. Mayhle, 29, and Paul J. Sciullo II, 36, after they responded to a 911 call from his mother.

Bogert, a friend of Poplawski whose father works as a city police officer, said he called the defendant on his cell phone after hearing about the shootings on the news. When Bogert asked why he killed the officers, Poplawski told him he didn't know and hung up.

During an earlier call to 911, Poplawski asked dispatcher Kathleen Cornell to tell police he was ready to surrender. Prosecutors played a copy of the 911 recording for the jury.

"I'm shot, maybe in two places," he told Cornell. "I'm lying in a pool of blood, and I can't really move. I'm not shooting any more cops because my weapons are out of ammunition and they're under the table. I'm done taking innocent police officers' lives."

In both conversations, the witnesses testified, Poplawski was conversational despite being in the middle of a gun battle.

"How you doing, Mikey• What's going on?" Bogert recalled him as saying at the beginning of their phone call.

In the call to Cornell, he began by asking in a calm voice, "How you doing, ma'am?"

Detective Brian Nicholas, the SWAT team leader that day, testified about Poplawski's surrender.

"What's done's done," Poplawski said, according to Nicholas. "Come in and get me. I'm bleeding. You have to help me."

He said Poplawski resisted attempts to handcuff him until officers forced his hands behind his back.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, who is not a part of the case, said Manning likely didn't want the jury to hear Margaret Poplawski's statements because they answer the question the jury is trying to determine -- if he's a cop-killer.

"Even though what she is saying is in the heat of the moment -- that's exactly the thing the jury has to decide," Burkoff said. "The prosecution has a decent argument to get it in, but the judge has to weigh it against the factual conclusions the jury is being asked to draw."

Margaret Poplawski was not present in court yesterday. She could not be reached for comment.

Jurors listened intently to the 40-minute recording of Officer Craig Campbell's negotiation with Poplawski. Some frowned and others had their hands over their mouths as Campbell persuaded Poplawski to put his hands in the air where officers could see them to help him surrender. Poplawski repeatedly referred to police officers as "(expletive) cops" and at least twice used racial epithets to describe black people.

"I'm going to jail one way or another," Poplawski said to Campbell. "I'm not going to shoot any more innocent officers."

He talked about the pain from being shot in his leg. Campbell kept telling Poplawski to put his hands in the air near a window or the door. As Poplawski moved toward the living room, Campbell asked him what he was seeing so officers knew where he was.

"I see a (expletive) cop on the ground and an exercise machine," Poplawski said.

SWAT squads had not reached Sciullo yet, who was dead in the front doorway.

On Monday, jurors heard Kelly was shot seven times. Yesterday's final witness, Dr. Todd Luckasevic testified Mayhle had five bullet wounds, two to his head and three in his back. A bullet that struck Mayhle's face on the right side of his nose severed his spine and was fatal almost immediately, Luckasevic said.

Testimony in the trial is expected to resume this morning.


The shootout: A time line

As Pittsburgh police Officer Eric Kelly lie dying on the sidewalk from Richard Poplawski's gunshots, fellow officers mounted a daring rescue effort to try and save his life, according to testimony on Tuesday.

Officer Stephen Mescan, one of the first SWAT officers to arrive at the Stanton Heights scene, testified that he formed a rescue plan that involved mostly patrolmen and detectives because most SWAT officers were not there yet.

Kelly and Officer Timothy McManaway were pinned behind Kelly's SUV by gunfire. Kelly, the first officer to respond to the call for help from Officer Stephen Mayhle, arrived shortly after 7 a.m.

Poplawski is on trial in Allegheny County court on charges that he gunned down Kelly, Mayhle and Officer Paul Sciullo II on April 4, 2009.

"When I got there, McManaway and Kelly were there and McManaway was waving to me," Mescan testified.

Outgunned and without any armored vehicles for cover, Mescan decided to use a police van to provide cover so the other officers could get Kelly and McManaway.

Homicide Detective Steve Hitchings volunteered to drive the van. Mescan took bulletproof vests from the medics and placed them against the walls of the van to provide some cover. He placed one vest on the dashboard and another against the door.

"Was Detective Hitchings fully protected?" Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli asked.

"Absolutely not," Mescan answered.

After pulling in front of Kelly and McManaway, the rescue team loaded both men into the back and backed the van away from the Poplawski home, Mescan said. They were rescued by 8:04 a.m., but Kelly was already unconscious.

By then, an armored SWAT vehicle arrived on scene. As the SWAT vehicle got closer to the residence, it was being hit with rapid gunfire from a window above the garage.

"We began to run low on ammo because we were sustaining so much fire," testified Mescan, who said he jumped in the armored vehicle.

As the officers from the armored vehicle provided cover, another team of SWAT officers was able to grab Mayhle's body at 8:53 a.m.

SWAT officers then drove the armored vehicle into the front yard. Officers were able to pull Sciullo out from the doorway at 10:34 a.m., and Poplawski was taken into custody 10 minutes later, Mescan said.

Additional Information:

The shootout: A time line

As Pittsburgh police Officer Eric Kelly lie dying on the sidewalk from Richard Poplawski's gunshots, fellow officers mounted a daring rescue effort to try and save his life, according to testimony on Tuesday.

Officer Stephen Mescan, one of the first SWAT officers to arrive at the Stanton Heights scene, testified that he formed a rescue plan that involved mostly patrolmen and detectives because most SWAT officers were not there yet.

Kelly and Officer Timothy McManaway were pinned behind Kelly's SUV by gunfire. Kelly, the first officer to respond to the call for help from Officer Stephen Mayhle, arrived shortly after 7 a.m.

Poplawski is on trial in Allegheny County court on charges that he gunned down Kelly, Mayhle and Officer Paul Sciullo II on April 4, 2009.

'When I got there, McManaway and Kelly were there and McManaway was waving to me,' Mescan testified.

Outgunned and without any armored vehicles for cover, Mescan decided to use a police van to provide cover so the other officers could get Kelly and McManaway.

Homicide Detective Steve Hitchings volunteered to drive the van. Mescan took bulletproof vests from the medics and placed them against the walls of the van to provide some cover. He placed one vest on the dashboard and another against the door.

'Was Detective Hitchings fully protected?' Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli asked.

'Absolutely not,' Mescan answered.

After pulling in front of Kelly and McManaway, the rescue team loaded both men into the back and backed the van away from the Poplawski home, Mescan said. They were rescued by 8:04 a.m., but Kelly was already unconscious.

By then, an armored SWAT vehicle arrived on scene. As the SWAT vehicle got closer to the residence, it was being hit with rapid gunfire from a window above the garage.

'We began to run low on ammo because we were sustaining so much fire,' testified Mescan, who said he jumped in the armored vehicle.

As the officers from the armored vehicle provided cover, another team of SWAT officers was able to grab Mayhle's body at 8:53 a.m.

SWAT officers then drove the armored vehicle into the front yard. Officers were able to pull Sciullo out from the doorway at 10:34 a.m., and Poplawski was taken into custody 10 minutes later, Mescan said.

 

 

 
 


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