Prosecutors: Man accused of killing New Kensington officer was armed drug dealer |
Valley News Dispatch

Prosecutors: Man accused of killing New Kensington officer was armed drug dealer

Rich Cholodofsky
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Rahmael Sal Holt is escorted from District Judge Frank J. Palone Jr.’s office after his preliminary hearing in December 2017.

Westmoreland County prosecutors said Wednesday they have evidence that the man accused of killing New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw was an armed drug dealer who sought to avoid arrest when he fired the fatal shots.

According to court documents presented during a pretrial hearing in preparation for the capital murder trial of Rahmael Sal Holt, prosecutors said they want jurors to hear evidence that he brandished a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun, the same firearm suspected as the murder weapon, during previous drug deals.

Holt, 31, of Harrison is charged with the first-degree murder of Shaw and faces a potential death penalty if convicted. Shaw was gunned down Nov. 17, 2017, in a parking lot along Leishman Avenue during a traffic stop. Police said Holt, a passenger in a vehicle driven by another man, pulled out a gun and demanded his driver not stop. When the vehicle did stop, police said, Holt ran away and shot Shaw as he pursued.

Holt has maintained he was not the shooter.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Lazar said in court during the hearing before Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway that police found heroin and marijuana in the vehicle from which Holt fled. Witnesses are expected to testify that Holt sold them drugs and threatened at least one with a gun weeks prior to Shaw’s murder.

“The commonwealth submits that the defendant’s motive in this matter was to avoid prosecution and imprisonment for his possession with intent to deliver controlled substances and his illegal possession of a firearm at the time of the offense,” according to the court filing from Lazar and District Attorney John Peck.

Hathaway said she will convene a hearing next week on the prosecution’s request to allow the gun and drug evidence against Holt. The murder weapon hasn’t been recovered.

Jury selection for Holt’s trial remains scheduled to begin Oct. 28 after Hathaway rejected a request from Holt on Wednesday to delay his case and fire his court-appointed lawyers, Tim Dawson and Jim Robinson.

“I want someone to act in my best interest,” Holt told the judge. Holt said he attempted to contact a private lawyer but has yet to hire a new attorney.

Hathaway said she will not remove Holt’s current lawyers and the trial will go on as scheduled.

“You’ve had a lot of time, Mr. Holt, and with due respect for yourself, for the commonwealth and for Officer Shaw’s family, we need to get this trial done. You are very well represented but you are entitled to hire private counsel if you wish to do so. But, we are going to proceed in two weeks,” Hathaway said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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