DA not seeking death penalty against suspect in murder of Temple University police officer

Maggie Kent Image
Wednesday, July 10, 2024
DA not seeking death penalty against suspect in murder of Temple University police officer
DA not seeking death penalty against suspect in murder of Temple University police officer

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office said Wednesday it is not seeking the death penalty against the 19-year-old accused of murdering a Temple University Police sergeant.

Miles Pfeffer, a resident of Buckingham Twp., Bucks County, is charged with the murder of 31-year-old Christopher Fitzgerald.

Pfeffer was not in the courtroom for his arraignment on Wednesday, where he was ordered to stand trial. His attorneys entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Miles Pfeffer
Miles Pfeffer

Fitzgerald, a married father of five, was killed at 17th and West Montgomery Avenue in North Philadelphia while investigating reports of a robbery in February 2023.

Fitzgerald was chasing three suspects after a series of robberies and carjackings in the area. After two of the suspects hid, officers say, Fitzgerald caught up with Pfeffer and ordered him to the ground. The pair struggled, and Pfeffer shot him six times, killing him, officials say.

Pfeffer, then 18, was arrested the next morning at his mother's suburban home and charged with murder, killing a police officer, carjacking and other crimes.

He remains in prison without bail. No trial date has been set.

RELATED: Fallen Temple University police officer honored for his service during funeral

Temple University police officer Christopher Fitzgerald was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant during a funeral service on Friday.

The D.A.'s decision not to seek the death penalty is a point of contention for the Fitzgerald family, which has been pushing for Pfeffer to face capital punishment.

They are still in the depths of mourning a year and a half after his death.

"It is a nightmare that replays over and over again. You want to wake up and you can't wake up," said Sgt. Fitzgerald's widow, Marissa.

They say their pain is amplified knowing that Pfeffer won't be facing the death penalty.

"If that potential penalty gets our family closer to closure, and makes a potential criminal hesitate before they kill someone in the city of Philadelphia, it is worth pursuing," said Sgt. Fitzgerald's father, Joel.

Temple University Police Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald
Temple University Police Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald

The Temple University Police Association, in a social media post, called the decision "absolutely devastating."

The D.A.'s office said in a statement the decision not to pursue the death penalty came after "extensive input over many hours from the family of Officer Fitzgerald, and from experts."

Spokesperson Dustin Slaughter said members of a District Attorney's Office committee, which includes attorneys "with a cumulative total of hundreds of years of homicide and other criminal trial and appeal experience," made their recommendation to Krasner, who then made the final decision.

"The input of the family is deeply appreciated and was carefully considered by the committee and DA Krasner prior to his decision," Slaughter said.

Family members of Fitzgerald released a statement saying they hope Krasner will turn this case over to a special prosecutor who can prosecute issues involving SEPTA.

They argue the special prosecutor could adopt the case because the murder happened within 500 feet of a SEPTA stop.

Krasner's office told Action News that while it is willing to work with the Fitzgerald family, the D.A.'s office will indeed be prosecuting the case.

Krasner, a former civil rights lawyer, has long been a vocal opponent of capital punishment in a state with a moratorium on it. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a fellow Democrat, has vowed not to sign any execution warrants.

Pfeffer's next court hearing is scheduled for July 31.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.