By Dan Nephin
PITTSBURGH — The attorney for a man accused of killing three Pittsburgh police officers wants a judge to extend a gag order to prevent Gov. Ed Rendell and other public officials from talking about the case.
Rendell effectively convicted and sentenced Richard Poplawski by saying he would sign Poplawski's death warrant without a minute's thought, defense attorney Lisa Middleman said in a motion filed Thursday.
Rendell made the comment Tuesday while talking about gun control. The following day, he called on Congress to ban assault weapons. Among the weapons police said Poplawski had was an AK-47.
"The opinions of public officials have a greater impact on the general public than those of the average citizen," Middleman wrote. "Public officials have a greater responsibility to act in a manner consistent with the fair administration of justice in the community."
Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said the "governor did not intend to prejudge the suspect's guilt or innocence. He simply meant that if found guilty by a jury and sentenced to death, he would sign a warrant quickly."
Prosecutors have not said if they will seek the death penalty against Poplawski, who faces homicide and related charges.
Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning on Tuesday issued a gag order preventing police, attorneys, potential witnesses and others involved in the case from talking about it outside of court. Manning has not scheduled a hearing on Middleman's request.
Poplawski, 22, is accused of shooting officers Eric Kelly, Stephen Mayhle and Paul Sciullo when they responded to a domestic disturbance call April 4.
His mother, Margaret Poplawski, called 911 to ask that police officers help her evict her son. Authorities say the officers walked into an ambush. Poplawski shot Sciullo in the home and Mayhle on the front stoop within seconds of their arrival, police say. He then shot Kelly, who was in the street as he arrived as backup, prompting a four-hour siege and gun battle with police, authorities say.
Two other officers were injured; one was hit in the hand and the other broke his leg climbing over a fence.
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Poplawski waived his right to a preliminary hearing that had been scheduled for Friday.