Prosecutors on Monday dropped criminal charges against a man they said provided key testimony against convicted cop killer Rahmael Sal Holt, just weeks after insisting no deal had been promised for his cooperation.
Tavon Harper, 29, had been in custody since his arrest following the November 2017 fatal shooting of New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw.
Prosecutors contended Harper, of New Kensington, drove an SUV in which Holt was a passenger. During a traffic stop, Holt fled on foot, shooting Shaw as he gave chase, prosecutors said.
Police charged Harper with three drug offenses and fleeing to avoid capture. During the investigation, Harper identified Holt as the man who was his passenger.
During the two-week trial in November, he was the lone witness who tied Holt to Shaw’s shooting.
In court on Monday, Assistant District Attorney Jim Lazar said again that Harper was not offered anything for his testimony against Holt but that he supported dismissing the pending charges.
“With permission from the Shaw family, we are moving to dismiss the charges in consideration of his testimony,” Lazar said.
Harper’s trial was scheduled to begin before Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway.
A jury last month convicted Holt, 31, of Harrison, Allegheny County, of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death by legal injection. Holt did not testify during his trial but maintained his innocence.
Holt’s defense lawyers argued Harper’s testimony was unreliable.
On Monday, Lazar shook Harper’s hand when he entered the courtroom. Harper offered a quiet apology to Shaw’s family, who were not present, for his involvement in the murder.
The judge consented to the dismissal of the charges.
“I know your testimony was very important to the commonwealth, and I know no promises were made,” Hathaway said.
Harper, following Holt’s trial, was transferred to the Washington County Jail for security reasons. He had been held in Westmoreland County through the trial. His lawyer, Jeffrey Weinberg, said on Monday that Harper was threatened at the completion of the case. He declined to offer more specifics. Lazar said he had no information that Harper had been threatened.
Harper is expected to remain in custody for least several additional days. He is still being held on a detainer filed against him by the state’s probation board after his arrest.
Weinberg said that detainer is expected to be lifted as the result of Monday’s dismissal of criminal charges.