Man convicted of murdering sisters in East Liberty seeks new trial
The Pittsburgh man serving life in prison for killing his neighbors in 2014 in East Liberty is seeking a new trial.
Allen Wade, 48, is serving consecutive life sentences, one for each victim, plus three consecutive terms of 10 to 20 years for two counts of robbery and one count of burglary for the Feb. 7, 2014, killing of sisters Sarah and Susan Wolfe in their Chislett Street home.
Attorneys argued before Superior Court judges this week whether allowing a jury access during deliberations to a PowerPoint presentation on DNA evidence used in the trial violated Pennsylvania jury rules.
In seeking a new trial for Wade, Victoria H. Vidt, Wade’s attorney from the Allegheny County Public Defender’s Office, has argued that jurors should not have been allowed to have the PowerPoint during deliberations, that a knit hat used during the trial should not have been allowed as evidence and a witness shouldn’t have been allowed to mention a lie detector test.
The district attorney’s office has said the issues raised in Wade’s appeal wouldn’t have affected the trial because of other overwhelming evidence against him.
Susan Wolfe, 44, was a teacher’s aide at the Hillel Academy in Squirrel Hill. Sarah Wolfe, 38, was a psychiatrist at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Oakland. They were both shot in the head and found in the basement of their home, doused with bleach and laundry detergent.
The crime rattled the neighborhood.
Police ultimately charged Wade, their next-door neighbor, with the crimes, relying on DNA evidence and surveillance footage of Wade using or attempting to use their bank cards to make ATM withdrawals.
During brief arguments Tuesday before Superior Court judges in Pittsburgh, Vidt focused on the PowerPoint presentation, which she said is akin to jurors having access to a transcript of testimony while they deliberated. That isn’t allowed by Pennsylvania’s rules governing juries because it could cause jurors to give more weight to such evidence, Vidt said.
Assistant District Attorney Karen Edwards countered that the slides in the PowerPoint amounted to a bullet-point summary of complicated testimony. Wade’s appeal also failed to show how the PowerPoint slides’ use in jury deliberations impacted the verdict, Edwards argued. The court specifically instructed the jury to consider all of the DNA testimony, and the defense hasn’t produced any evidence that the jury didn’t follow that instruction, the DA’s office argued in its brief filed with the court.
The knit hat had Wade’s DNA on it and was found in the Wolfes’ home after a burglary investigation more than five weeks before the sisters were killed. Vidt argued it shouldn’t have been used as evidence in Wade’s murder trial.
The hat was admitted as evidence not because it was found during the burglary investigation but to show Wade had been in the Wolfes’ home — something he denied, prosecutors argued.
The mention by a witness of a lie detector test shouldn’t have been allowed because such tests aren’t admissible in Pennsylvania, Vidt said. Mention of the test was made in passing and wasn’t relevant to the verdict in the case, the DA’s office said.
Superior Court hasn’t issued an opinion on the appeal.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .