Officer Brian Shaw’s mother to Rahmael Holt: ‘I will never forgive you’
Lisa Shaw says she is still waiting to wake up from the nightmare of losing her son, New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw.
“All he wanted to do was make a difference in the community,” Shaw told jurors Wednesday on the first day of the sentencing hearing of Rahmael Holt, who was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder.
Her emotions are like tidal waves, she said.
“I miss my son so much. I can’t even begin to describe the pain,” she said before directing her comments at Holt. “I will never forgive you for what you did to him.”
Lisa Shaw spoke to the jury that convicted Holt — the same jury that now will decide whether he spends the rest of his life in prison without the chance of parole, or is sentenced to death.
The jury must agree unanimously for a death sentence.
The hearing is expected to resume Thursday.
Jury to weigh several factors
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said the only aggravating circumstance in favor of a death sentence is that Brian Shaw was a police officer killed in the line of duty.
Jim Robinson, one of Holt’s two court-appointed attorneys, said the defense will point to several mitigating factors from Holt’s background in asking for a sentence of life without parole, including that he grew up without a father in an environment of violence and drugs.
“You’re not here to be avenging angels for Brian Shaw,” Robinson told the jury.
Outside the courtroom, lead defense attorney Tim Dawson said they will try to humanize Holt, showing him as a young man who had a deprived childhood and “was lost on the streets.”
“He really had no father and grew up with his cousins,” Dawson said. “He grew up on the streets and suffered his own trauma when, ironically, his own brother was murdered on the streets. That directly impacted him.”
Peck told the jury that Holt’s actions define who he is.
Witness: Holt had troubled childhood
Jean Dexheimer was the only witness called by the defense Wednesday. Dawson said he’ll have two more witnesses when the hearing resumes Thursday.
Dexheimer said she met Holt as a boy in 1996 when she bought a house in his Wilkinsburg neighborhood. Holt was with a cousin and his younger brother, the one later murdered, who asked her for money to spend at a convenience store.
She called the boys the “Three Musketeers.”
Dexheimer said Holt’s upbringing didn’t seem to be a good one. She said she once bought him a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” book after he was hurt in an accident; later, Holt told her he didn’t get to read it because his uncle ripped it up and threw it away.
Dexheimer volunteered in the schools, and later was elected to the Wilkinsburg School Board. She said she tutored Holt and often fed the three boys at her house after school, and she became like a grandmother to them.
Attending school wasn’t an emphasis in Holt’s life, she said.
Holt “came to school late often, not having been fed, wearing clothes obviously cast off from someone else, not clean,” she said. By contrast, Holt’s mother was well-dressed, with her hair and nails done.
“The contrast was striking or I wouldn’t have remembered it this long,” Dexheimer said.
Shaw’s mother, brother: Our lives are shattered
The sentencing hearing began with statements from Brian Shaw’s mother and older brother, Steffan Shaw Jr. They were not questioned.
Steffan Shaw Jr. recalled his brother telling him he had been hired in New Kensington on June 6, 2017 — Shaw Jr.’s first day working as a police officer in Penn Hills.
“I’ll never forget the excitement in his voice,” he said. “He landed his dream job.”
Steffan Shaw Jr. told the jury how on Nov. 17, 2017, he was told that a New Kensington officer had been shot. He soon learned from then-New Kensington police Chief Jim Klein that it was his brother. He called his parents.
“To this day I can still hear my mother scream,” Shaw said.
Shaw said Klein later hugged him at the hospital as he delivered the news that Shaw’s brother didn’t make it.
“My brother, my best friend and my brother-in-blue was ripped from us in a blink of an eye,” he said.
Steffan Shaw Jr. contrasted what his family had to go through after the shooting while Holt fled and hid.
He called Holt a coward.
“You don’t value human life, so you shouldn’t be spared, either,” he said.
Lisa Shaw said her son Brian had closed on his first house just a week before he was killed.
“He was so excited and couldn’t wait to fix it up with his dad,” she said.
The day before the shooting, Lisa Shaw said she spent the morning with Brian and his girlfriend, shopping for furniture for the new house.
“It was such a good day, one I will always remember,” she said.
She added that she never would have imagined it would be the last day she’d spend with her son.
Lisa Shaw said family members were told they could see her son’s body after he died, but were told not to touch it because it was considered evidence.
“This tore us apart,” she said. “Nothing about his death was normal or peaceful.
“That night our lives were shattered and changed forever.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .