Judge denies accused cop killer Rahmael Holt’s request for outside jury
Jury selection in the capital murder trial of Rahmael Sal Holt will begin in Westmoreland County, but could be moved to another county if finding impartial jurors proves to be too difficult, a judge ruled Monday.
Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway rejected a defense request to move jury selection to another county because of intense pretrial publicity the case has generated since the November 2017 slaying of New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw.
Holt, 31, of Harrison is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the fatal shooting of Shaw. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty should there be a conviction.
“We won’t be able to select a fair and impartial jury in Westmoreland County,” defense attorney Tim Dawson said.
Jury selection for Holt’s November trial is scheduled to begin in late October. Testimony is slated to begin Nov. 4.
Hathaway said an effort will be made to select jurors in Westmoreland County. Should that prove to be difficult, the judge said she will reconsider the defense’s motion.
Prosecutors said Holt gunned down Shaw as Holt fled from a traffic stop in New Kensington. Holt was arrested four days later in Pittsburgh after an intense manhunt.
Also on Monday, the judge rejected a defense effort to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.
Dawson argued that two cases pending before the state’s Supreme Court regarding appeals seeking to overturn death penalty cases issued in Philadelphia could ultimately invalidate capital punishment in Pennsylvania. Dawson also suggested that state legislation proposed in Harrisburg would do the same.
The appeals are based on an argument that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.
Capital punishment has been the law in Pennsylvania since the late 1970s but just three men have been executed in the state. Gov. Tom Wolf has placed a moratorium on signing any death warrants as state officials continue to study the impacts of the death penalty.
“At this time the death penalty is not declared unconstitutional, so at this point the trial will proceed,” Hathaway said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .