Defense for suspect accused of killing Brian Shaw wants background info withheld
A Westmoreland County judge ruled Friday that lawyers for the man facing a potential death penalty in connection with the 2017 fatal shooting of New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw must turn over to prosecutors a report detailing why his life should be spared should he be found guilty.
Defense attorney Tim Dawson said a mitigation expert who evaluated Rahmael Sal Holt found that he suffers from no mental health or intellectual disabilities, but societal issues that impacted his life and upbringing could persuade jurors to impose a life prison sentence if they find him guilty.
Defense lawyers claimed Holt’s case would be damaged if that report were disclosed to the prosecution prior to his upcoming trial.
Holt, 31, of Harrison is charged with first-degree murder in connection with Shaw’s killing. Police contend Shaw was gunned down following a Nov. 17, 2017, traffic stop in New Kensington.
Holt has maintained he was not the man who fired the fatal shots that killed Shaw.
Prosecutors said they will ask jurors to sentence Holt to death if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
“It is our position they are not entitled to it until sentencing,” defense attorney Tim Dawson said.
He said details in Holt’s evaluation include witnesses and other factors the defense could use to persuade jurors to sentence Holt to life in prison rather than condemn him to death by lethal injection.
Dawson declined to discuss specifics of those findings.
Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway previously ordered the defense to give prosecutors that report by Sept. 10, but a month later that requirement had not been met. The judge said her review of a preliminary draft of the report did not warrant it be kept from the prosecution.
“I can’t see anything that prosecutors would use. Your client’s background is irrelevant to whether he shot officer Shaw,” Hathaway said. “If the jury does not find him guilty of first-degree murder, then this is all moot.”
If he is convicted of first-degree murder, the same jury would then consider Holt’s sentence during a second phase of the trial.
In determining Holt’s sentence, jurors would be tasked with weighing aggravating circumstances about the killing with mitigating factors the defense contends warrants Holt’s life to be spared.
Jury selection for Holt’s trial is scheduled to begin Monday, Oct. 28, and testimony is slated to start the following Monday, Nov. 4.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .