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Prosecutors present reasons to seek death penalty in killing of Pa. officer

Sentencing in the death of a McKeesport officer may run against Gov. Josh Shapiro’s call for lawmakers to repeal the death penalty

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Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Prosecutors say they plan to seek the death penalty if they win a first-degree murder conviction against a man charged in last month’s shooting death of one police officer and the wounding of another in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

Johnathan Jermia Morris, 31, of McKeesport is charged in Allegheny County with criminal homicide, attempted homicide and assaulting a law enforcement officer, as well as firearms crimes in the Feb. 6 shootings about 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Pittsburgh.

[EARLIER: Officer killed, 2nd badly wounded in western Pa.]

In a notice filed with the court Friday, prosecutors said capital punishment would be warranted for several reasons, including that the victim was a police officer, the crime was committed during another felony and it created a grave risk of death to another person. Pennsylvania hasn’t executed anyone since 1999.

Authorities have said officers were called to a home over a dispute involving a man having a mental health crisis. When they caught up with Morris, he “ suddenly produced a handgun ” and fired, killing Officer Sean Sluganski, 32, and wounding another officer, authorities alleged.

Wounded by return fire, Morris ran to a parking lot and sought help. A person putting a tourniquet on his leg reported seeing Morris pull a handgun and point it at a third approaching officer, sparking another exchange of gunfire, authorities said.

[EARLIER: ‘I’m shot in the face': Police radio transmissions show chaos of deadly Pa. shooting]

Detective Patrick Kinavey testified during a preliminary hearing last month that Morris said he didn’t remember firing at Sluganski and only did so after failing to scare the officers off. He shot at the third officer because he said he feared the officer was “out for blood,” Kinavey said.

Gov. Josh Shapiro has called on state lawmakers to repeal the death penalty and says he won’t sign death warrants and will issue reprieves on scheduled executions, extending his predecessor’s policies.

There are 101 people on death row in Pennsylvania. Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, only three people who dropped appeals have been executed.

EARLIER: Man charged with shooting Pa. officers had talked of previous killing spree plans