Governor Corbett signs execution warrants for two convicted cop killers

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Governor Tom Corbett has signed execution warrants for two men convicted of killing police officers in separate shooting incidents in the counties of Philadelphia and Westmoreland.

Borgela Philistin was convicted of first-degree murder for the June 16, 1993 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Robert Hayes. Philistin was also convicted of aggravated assault for shooting Officer John Marynowitz during the same incident, causing injuries that left the second Philadelphia policeman permanently paralyzed.

Michael J. Travaglia was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy for killing Apollo Police Officer Leonard Clifford Miller on Jan. 3, 1980 in Westmoreland County.

Both men are incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Greene. Philistin’s execution has been scheduled for April 23, 2013. Travaglia’s execution has been scheduled for April 25, 2013.

Philistin, now 39, was sentenced to death in February 1995 in Philadelphia County Court.

Around 10 p.m. on June 16, 1993 in the City of Philadelphia, the two police officers made a routine traffic stop of a vehicle. Philistin was a passenger in the car.

Officer Marynowitz approached the driver’s side of the vehicle and Officer Hayes walked to the passenger side of the car.

Officer Hayes asked Philistin to lift his hands and get out of the car. Philistin initially refused, but then pushed open the car door, knocking Officer Hayes off balance. Philistin got out of the vehicle and started fighting with Officer Hayes. Officer Marynowitz radioed for backup and then tried to help Officer Hayes. A witness to the scuffle called 911.

Philistin wrenched the firearm from Officer Marynowitz, fired several shots and fled.

Other police officers pursued the suspect, caught Philistin and returned him to the scene where he was identified by the witness.

Hayes, shot in the head and the abdomen, died the next morning. Marynowitz, shot in the head and the back, survived but was paralyzed as a result.

 

Travaglia, now 54, was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy and sentenced to death in 1981 in Westmoreland County Court for Officer Miller’s death.

Following a federal appeal, Travaglia was given a new sentencing hearing in 2005 and was again sentenced to death. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the sentence.

Corbett issued an earlier execution warrant for Travaglia in July 2012, but a federal court issued a stay pending completion of the appeal process. In January 2013, the federal court dismissed the appeal, lifting the stay.

On Jan. 3, 1980, Officer Miller stopped a sports car containing Travaglia, his co-defendant and another passenger, after it repeatedly sped past him. As Officer Miller walked toward the car, he was shot twice.

Law enforcement officers, responding to Officer Miller’s call for assistance, later found the policeman’s body lying on the highway. His service weapon was drawn and all six rounds had been fired.

Officer Miller’s death was the last in a series of crimes committed by Travaglia and his co-defendant. According to court documents, in the days preceding Officer Miller’s death, Travaglia and his co-defendant:

  • Forced Peter Levato to drive them out of Pittsburgh on Dec. 27, 1979, binding his feet and hands, hitting him over the head and pushing him over a bridge. When the men discovered Levato was still alive, Travaglia shot him once in the chest and twice in the head. Travaglia later pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and conspiracy for Levato’s death.
  • Robbed and repeatedly shot Marlene Sue Newcomer, who had offered the men a ride in her vehicle on Jan. 1, 1980. Travaglia later pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and conspiracy for Newcomer’s death.
  • Forced William Nicholls to drive them out of Pittsburgh on Jan. 2, 1980, then shot, beat and gagged the man before pushing him into a lake where he drowned. Travaglia pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy for that incident.

In September 2011, Corbett also signed an execution warrant for Travaglia’s co-defendant, John C. Lesko.

Lesko’s execution was stayed by a federal court judge pending appeal. The appeal is still pending. Now 54, Lesko is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford.

The execution warrants for Philistin and Travaglia, signed Wednesday, were Governor Corbett’s 25th and 26th warrants since taking office.

Executions in Pennsylvania are carried out by lethal injection. For more information, visit the Department of Corrections online at www.cor.state.pa.us and select “Death Penalty’’ from the left-side navigation bar.