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Valley News Dispatch

Man accused of killing New Kensington officer Brian Shaw wants to marry witness, prosecutors say

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, July 25, 2018, 5:39 p.m.
Rahmael Sol Holt is escorted from District Court Justice Frank Pallone's office after his preliminary hearing on Wednesday Dec 13, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Rahmael Sol Holt is escorted from District Court Justice Frank Pallone's office after his preliminary hearing on Wednesday Dec 13, 2017.

The man accused of killing New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw wants to marry a key witness against him, according to prosecutors.

Westmoreland County prosecutors on Wednesday filed court documents seeking to halt wedding nuptials for Rahmael Sol Holt.

Prosecutors claim they’ve been told Holt intends to marry girlfriend Vanessa Portis. Portis was a key witness against Holt and testified in a previous court hearing that she drove him to different locations after the shooting. Police arrested Holt in Pittsburgh after a four-day manhunt. Portis, according to the prosecution, was also identified as the owner of a mobile phone Holt dropped as he fled Shaw’s murder scene.

Holt, 30, of Harrison is being held without bond in West­more­land County Prison while awaiting trial for first-degree murder and other offenses in connection with the Nov. 17 shooting death of Shaw.

A marriage may be an effort to keep Portis from testifying against Holt at trial, according to a court filing from District Attorney John Peck and Assistant District Attorney Jim Lazar.

They argued that federal and state courts have differed on how to treat a spouse’s testimony. Still, the prosecution contends a marriage should not prevent Portis from testifying about events before they were married. Communication between the two after marriage could be barred from evidence, Peck and Lazar argued.

As a result, the prosecution said the potential marriage should be shelved until after Holt’s trial.

“Because the act of marrying will foreclose consideration of whether the defendant is entitled to the marital privileges in Pennsylvania, the only avenue the commonwealth has to pursue the protection of the truth and the availability of this witness is to seek a bar to the marriage itself. The commonwealth speaks now lest we be compelled to forever hold our peace,” Peck and Lazar argued.

Peck has said he will seek the death penalty against Holt if he is convicted.

No date for the trial has been set.

Defense attorney Tim Dawson said Holt’s marriage plan is not an effort to disrupt the prosecution’s case or to suppress evidence.

“Love is a many splendored thing. Who is the district attorney to step in, and why are they trying to stop this,” Dawson asked. “I believe this is true love.”

Holt has not obtained a marriage license in Westmoreland County, according to staff in the Register of Wills Office.

John Walton, warden at Westmoreland County Prison, said that because Holt is an inmate, he would need permission from a judge to be furloughed for a wedding ceremony out of the facility. A wedding cannot be conducted in the jail, he said.

Holt is permitted one in-person visit each week at the jail, but a wedding could not occur during those sessions, Walton said. Inmates are allowed an unlimited number of visits via video conferencing.

Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway said she will conduct a hearing on the issue later this year. Until then, the judge ordered jail officials to prevent Holt from marrying by limiting or monitoring his video conferencing visits and be sure that no weddings are conducted at any time he is taken from the lockup.

Dawson suggested the judge at a hearing consider more than just allowing Holt to marry.

“Perhaps at that time she can conduct the (wedding) service, too, for judicial economy,” Dawson said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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