Pa. jury sentences man to death in officer killing

This is an undated mug shot of George Hitcho. Image courtesy WFMZ-TV.

May 25, 2012 4:59:32 AM PDT
A man who fatally shot a police officer responding to a disturbance call at his home was sentenced Thursday to death.

Northampton County jurors announced their decision shortly after 2 1/2 hours of deliberations in the penalty phase of George Hitcho Jr.'s murder trial. Hitcho was convicted of first-degree murder last week in the August killing of Freemansburg police Officer Robert Lasso, who was shot while responding to Hitcho's home, about 50 miles north of Philadelphia.

Prosecutors argued that nothing in Hitcho's life offset his decision to shoot Lasso in the back of the head. The defense maintained Hitcho had become erratic and volatile after a series of head injuries.

Chief public defender Michael Corriere argued Hitcho was an otherwise nonviolent man who faced many challenges, including drug and alcohol dependency, and physical abuse. Defense witnesses said Hitcho suffered brain damage from motorcycle accidents that left him prone to anger, frustration and agitation.

District Attorney John Morganelli argued the claims of brain damage were manufactured and told the jury it should sentence Hitcho to death because it's what he earned.

"Give him the same compassion he showed Officer Lasso when he shot him in the head," Morganelli said. "Give him the same mercy."

No one has been executed in Pennsylvania since Gary Heidnik in July 1999. Heidnik was sentenced to die for murdering two women he had imprisoned in his Philadelphia home.