Michael Eric Ballard – White, age 36

Sentenced in Northampton County, Pennsylvania
By: a jury
Date of crime: June 2010
Victim: Denise Merhi, 39, Dennis Marsh, 62, Alvin Marsh, 87, Steven Zernhelt, 53
Prosecution’s case/defense response: Ballard admitted to the stabbing deaths of his ex-girlfriend, Merhi, her father and grandfather, Dennis and Alvin, and a neighbor who came when he heard screams.  The prosecution presented the murders as “revenge killings” arguing Ballard was motivated to punish the entire family when he discovered Merhi had been with other men.  The defense argued that Ballard had suffered a rough childhood, brain damage, and an overbearing jealousy that had caused him to snap.  The prosecution noted that Ballard had recently been paroled after serving a felony-murder conviction.  They also entered into evidence a number of letters Ballard had written from prison detailing the murders and his motivations.
Sources: Allentown Morning Call (PA) 5/10/11 A1 (2011 WLNR 9322974), Allentown Morning Call (PA) 5/17/11 A1 (2011 WLNR 9869039).

Glen Lyons – Black, age 42

Sentenced in Berks County, Pennsylvania
By: a jury
Date of crime: May 2008
Victim: Kathy Leibig, 45
Prosecution’s case/defense response:  Lyons killed Leibig by stabbing her 30 times.  The prosecution argued that Lyons snapped when Leibig attempted to break off their affair.  DNA evidence linked him to the scene, and the murder weapons matched a knife set in his kitchen.  Lyons contended that an unknown attacker knocked him out and murdered Leibig.  He also believed his conviction was prejudicial as he had been convicted by an all-white jury for murdering a white victim.  A forensic psychologist argued that Lyons’ rough childhood, low IQ, and prejudiced beliefs mitigated his sentencing.  The prosecution argued the murder was aggravated by the torture of the 30 stabbings and the criminal history of armed robberies.
Sources: Reading Eagle (PA) 6/3/2011 (Pg. Unavail. Online) (2011 WLNR 11108702), Reading Eagle (PA) 6/8/2011 (Pg. Unavail. Online) (2011 WLNR 11432982).

Hector Morales – Latino, age 26

Sentenced in York County, Pennsylvania
By: a jury
Date of crime: July 16, 2009
Victim: Ronald Simmons Jr., 42
Prosecution’s case/defense response: Morales broke into a fellow drug dealer’s home and shot him six times, twelve hours before the victim was set to testify against Morales in a preliminary hearing. The defense listed mitigating factors including Morales’s inability to appreciate criminality due to a severe head injury received as a child, his age, and his character.  Defense also argued that he had already bought off the witness and that one of his enforcers killed Simmons and framed him.  The prosecution argued three aggravating factors necessitating the death sentence: the killing of a witness, felony-murder, and causing a grave risk of death to someone other than the victim (Simmons’ wife was ten feet from her husband at the crime).  The victim was notably sympathetic, portrayed as a veteran who turned to drugs to self-medicate but in all other facets was a contributing member of society.
Sources: York Daily Rec. (Pg. Unavail. Online) 1/21/11 (2011 WLNR 1275671), York Daily Rec. (Pg. Unavail. Online) 1/22/11 (2011 WLNR 1351347), York Daily Rec. (Pg. Unavail. Online) 1/22/11 (2011 WLNR 1351448)

Richard Poplawski – White, age 22

Sentenced in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
By: a jury
Date of crime: April 2009
Victim: Paul J. Sciullo II, 36, Stephen J. Mayhle, 29, Eric Kelly, 41
Prosecution’s case/defense response: During a domestic dispute, Poplawski’s mother called 911.  Poplawski fired on police and a standoff ensued for three hours.  During the exchange of fire, Poplawski killed three police officers.  The defense presented character witnesses testifying to Poplawski’s youth, lack of criminal record, and troubled childhood including emotional and physical abuse.  The defense argued that this dysfunctional home life, rampant distrust of the government, and Poplawski’s sizable arsenal combined into a horrible perfect storm.  The prosecution countered that one of the victim’s had a similarly troubled childhood and decided to become a police officer rather than a cop-killer.
Sources: 6/29/11 AP Alert – Legal 01:38:43, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA) 6/29/11 A1 (2011 WLNR 12912065).