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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Trial is underway in Allegheny County for a man accused in a brutal domestic violence case.
James Karr is accused of killing his wife by knocking her unconscious, tying her up and setting her house on fire. If he’s convicted, Karr could be put to death.
An alleged confession recorded at Allegheny County Police Headquarters is what’s at issue right now in the trial. It’s a critical piece of evidence for both sides. For the prosecution, it’s a chance to use the defendants own words against him. For the defense, it’s a chance to raise the question of whether Karr spoke to detectives voluntarily.
Karr, 50, is accused of homicide and arson. Police said the heinous crime happened on December 30, 2014, on Friendship Street in Duquesne.
Detectives said Karr told them an argument ensued, his wife came at him with an axe, and in pushing her away, she hit her head against the wall. Karr also allegedly told police after trying to resuscitate her he bound her hands behind her back with wire, poured vodka on her with a trail leading to the front door, then lit the vodka on fire and went out the back door.
The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office is pursuing the death penalty.
“It’s a very thoughtful process. Obviously you’re talking about the ultimate sanction in the criminal justice process, so we want to get it right from the beginning,” said District Attorney Stephen Zappala.
It’s somewhat unusual that the case is being heard by a judge rather than a jury.
“Death penalty cases often take two weeks just to pick a jury. So to the extent the family is looking for closure, or looking for a disposition of the case, it’s going to happen much more quickly non-jury than it is jury,” said Zappala.
At the time, Karr and Maureen were living apart and she had a Temporary Protection from Abuse Order in place. In her application to the court, she said Karr threatened to set the house on fire.
According to KDKA Legal Editor Julie Grant, in death penalty cases, there are two phases. The first phase is where guilt or innocence is determined. If there is a guilty verdict, then the case proceeds to the penalty phase. That is where the court will decide whether to impose a sentence of death.
This case is in recess until Monday, June 18, 2018.