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Poplawski trial: Day 4

| Thursday, June 23, 2011

Richard Poplawski, 24, is on trial for the shooting deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers who responded to a domestic dispute at his Stanton Heights home on the morning of April 4, 2009.

Officers Eric G. Kelly, 41, Stephen J. Mayhle, 29, and Paul J. Sciullo II, 36, died in the shootout. If the jury brought in from Dauphin County convicts Poplawski of at least one count of first-degree murder, it will decide whether he gets the death penalty.

Tribune-Review staff writers Bobby Kerlik and Bob Bauder are providing updates from the Allegheny County Courthouse throughout the trial.

7:45 p.m.

The bullet that killed Officer Eric G. Kelly came from Poplawski's 7.62 mm AK-47 assault rifle, a firearms expert testified.

Robert Levine, who heads the firearms and tool mark section of the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office, said a bullet recovered from Kelly's right lung was a positive match with the AK-47. A forensic pathologist testified earlier in the trial that the bullet severed several vital organs and was fatal.

He testified that non-fatal bullet recovered from Kelly's body also came from the assault rifle.

Levine said several fragments from jacketed bullets taken from Scuillo's body came from a .357 Magnum revolver and a 7.62 mm rifle. He was unable to make a positive match, but said the only weapons recovered from the crime scene that matched the fragments were Poplawski's.

Eight .40-caliber pistol casings and several spent bullets recovered from the Poplawski house were fired by Mayhle, Levine said.

He said all of the AK-47 and .357-caliber casings and six 12-gauge shotgun shell casings found in the house matched Poplawski's weapons.

4:18 p.m.

A bullet that struck and lodged in the bulletproof vest Richard Poplawski wore on the day of the shootings came from Officer Stephen Mayhle'si 1/2 service weapon, a ballistics expert testified.

Thomas Morgan, of the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office, said he matched the bullet found in the vest with a test bullet fired from Mayhle's .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol.

Witnesses testified earlier in the trial that evidence suggested Mayhle engaged in a running gun battle with Poplawski inside his home at 1016 Fairfield St. Investigators found eight .40-caliber bullet casings in various rooms of the house.

A hole in the chest area of a Mario Lemieux hockey jersey Poplawski was wearing that day was consistent with the hole in the vest, Morgan said.

The bullet didi 1/2 not penetrate the vest, buti 1/2 Poplawski's chest was bruised in thei 1/2 same area, according to an examinationi 1/2 after he was arrested.

Tranquilli announced that he planned to call 17 more witnesses. He will next questioni 1/2 Dr. Robert Levine, anotheri 1/2 firearms and ballistics expert from thei 1/2 medical examiner's office.

3:51 p.m.

In a letter dated Dec. 17, 2007, Richard Poplawski wrote down his New Year's resolutions.

"To live up to my intellectual, physical, and social potential. To never allow a simple pleasure to go unappreciated, a moment to pass without drawing experience, or an opportunity to slip away," Poplawski wrote in a full-page handwritten note.

The note ended with "To eliminate all forms of self-pity, guilt, and regret stemming from the past and keep a keen eye on the future. To develop a steadfast will in order to maintain motivation to become a complete, positive, satisfied and healthy individual."

The note was signed "Richard Andrew Poplawski."

State police assisting in the investigation of Poplawski found the note in a hunting cabin in Clarion County, Trooper Matthew Baumgard testified.

3:20 p.m.

The day after police said Richard Poplawski killed three Pittsburgh police officers, state police troopers assisting in the investigation found a hunting camp in Clarion County owned by Poplawski's mother, a trooper testified today.

The camp was a white shack with no running water and no electricity, said state police Trooper Matthew Baumgard. Inside, troopers found evidence that Richard Poplawski had been there: a New Year's resolution list dated Dec. 17, 2007, and signed at the bottom by Richard Andrew Poplawski.

They also found a makeshift target range in the woods surrounding the shack. A metal sink, a white door propped up against a tree, a wheelbarrow and an electronic dart board on a tree all were riddled with bullet holes, Baumgard testified.

A blue barrel in the woods punctured with bullet holes also had the Poplawskis' Fairfield Street address on it. Spent shell casings from several different caliber weapons, including 7.62 mm casings, also were found, Baumgard said.

Troopers also found boxes of emergency essentials inside, such as a water purification kit and rice, Baumgard said.

Baumgard was the fourth witness of the day and the 27th witness overall since the trial started Monday.

Several people who work in the courthouse watched parts of the trial this afternoon. Common Pleas Judge Thomas Flaherty sat in the rear of the gallery near Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen and his chief deputy, Joseph Rizzo.

1:35 p.m.

Ani 1/2 examination of Poplawski's laptop computer indicated he spent thei 1/2 hours before the shootings surfingi 1/2 websites that includedi 1/2 ai 1/2 story about a mass killingi 1/2 in Binghamton, N.Y., ai 1/2 computer specialisti 1/2 testified.

Investigatorsi 1/2 found thei 1/2 computer �"i 1/2 bearing one ofi 1/2 Poplawski's fingerprints �" in his bedroom.

Det. Timothy Haney, an Allegheny County Policei 1/2 computer crime investigator, said the computer's hard drive indicated it had been used to access other sites, including that of a Pittsburgh Penguins fan site, ai 1/2 dog food company and a white supremacist site.

Haney also turned up photographs, including one of Poplawski wearing a white baseball cap and a bulletproof vest withi 1/2 the letters "PO" written on the front. In hisi 1/2 right hand he is holding a semi-automatic pistol.

Last night, Tranquilli said in court that Poplawski was wearing a similar �" possibly the same �" vest during the shootout.

Testimony is scheduled to resume at 1:45 p.m. after a lunch break.

12:30 p.m.

Poplawski, dressed in a yellow shirt with blue stripes and brown pants, occasionally glanced at the large screen while prosecutor Mark Tranquilli displayed the photos of Sciullo's autopsy but focused more on the testimony from the witness stand.

Most of the jury looked at the graphic photos and did not express any emotion. One juror looked upset as Shakir described how the bullets traveled through Sciullo's body.

Tranquilli told the judge he planned to introduce evidence of websites Poplawski visited in the hours before the shooting. Tranquilli said Poplawski browsed and looked at dog biscuits,, white supremacist website and a Fox News link to a story about a mass murder-suicide story, all between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Manning ruled the jury would be allowed to hear the website information, over the objections of Poplawksi's attorney.

12:05 p.m.

Officer Paul Sciullo was shot at least eight times, two of which likely came from police fire after he was already dead, a prosecution witness testified today.

Dr. Abdulrezak Shakir, a forensic pathologist with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office, told the jury about the autopsy he performed on Sciullo's body. At least four shots hit Sciullo in the head, the first two of which would have rendered him unconscious and killed him, Shakir testified.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Lisa Middleman questioned Shakir about two shots to Sciullo.

"Is it possible wounds five and six were inflicted by snipers?" Middleman asked.

"Yes," he said.

"Is that probably where it came from?" Middleman asked.

"Most probably," he said.

9:10 p.m.

Richard Poplawski's capital murder trial should resume at 10 a.m. after attorneys from both sides finish reviewing evidence.

Dr. Abdulrezak Shakir of the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office is the first witness scheduled.

Shakir is expected to discuss the autopsy of Officer Paul J. Sciullo II.

Photo Galleries

Poplawski Trial

Poplawski Trial

Richard Poplawski was found guilty of all charges in the slayings of three Pittsburgh police officers.

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