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Philadelphia DA won't seek death penalty for man charged with killing Temple police Sgt. Chris Fitzgerald

Family of slain Temple officer furious Philadelphia DA won't seek death penalty for suspected killer
Family of slain Temple officer furious Philadelphia DA won't seek death penalty for suspected killer 03:01

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner's office confirmed Wednesday he will not pursue the death penalty against Miles Pfeffer, the young man accused of fatally shooting Temple University Police Sgt. Chris Fitzgerald in February 2023.

In a statement released on behalf of the Fitzgeralds early Wednesday morning by Marrone Law Firm, the family said they were notified through a prosecutor Krasner wouldn't seek the death penalty for the 19-year-old Pfeffer and denied the request to appeal that decision directly to the DA.

Late Wednesday morning, Dustin Slaughter with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office said the decision not to pursue the death penalty for Pfeffer "was made after extensive input over many hours from the family of Officer Fitzgerald, and from experts."

"The input of the family is deeply appreciated and was carefully considered by the committee and DA Krasner prior to his decision.  The DAO looks forward to continuing to support the family's needs and to vigorously prosecuting this terrible murder," Slaughter said.

"We recognize and appreciate the opportunity that our family had to be heard. There has been national interest in Christopher's murder, and we press on for thousands of families who are unable to seek justice in a similar manner," Fitzgerald's wife Marissa said as part of the statement. "While nothing can replace my husband or your loved ones, we must continue to fight for them, and for change."

The family's statement went on to criticize Krasner for not allowing a judge or jury to consider the death penalty after hearing the evidence and testimony presented in the case.

The phone call taking the death penalty off the table for Pfeffer came a day before his formal arraignment on a charge of first-degree murder. Attorneys for Pfeffer, who was not present, entered a not-guilty plea.

"It's a nightmare over and over and you want to wake up and you can't wake up," Marissa Fitzgerald said during a Zoom interview on Wednesday.  

"He (Pfeffer) made sure my husband wasn't going to get up off that street," she added. "That's not — doesn't deserve 30, doesn't deserve — that deserves life without parole or the death penalty."

Outside court, Attorney Joe Marrone, who represents the Fitzgerald family, railed over the death penalty withdrawal. 

"It's unfortunate and it is disturbing," Marrone said. "We know it sends a horrible message to the public, right, and it sends a very horrible message to law enforcement."

Krasner has long expressed his opposition to the death penalty and ran for office in 2017 on an anti-death penalty platform, according to the Associated Press. On Feb. 16, 2023, just two days before Fitzgerald died, Krasner released a lengthy statement in support of Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro's announcement that he wouldn't issue any execution warrants during his term.

"Pennsylvania should accept the position New Jersey's chief prosecutors took over a decade ago: that ending the death penalty and spending the money it wastes on other things will make us safer than the death penalty ever did," he said in part. 

Krasner was reelected in 2021 after running on a platform of criminal justice reform and ending overly punitive sentences.

"While the death penalty is not part of the religious or personal beliefs of some, we respect the law and all associated lawful penalties," said Pauline Fitzgerald, Chris' mother. "Prior to this evening, we remained prayerful that the judicial system would be allowed to work and that the fate of my son's murderer would be decided by a judge or jury with all available options."

In a social media post Wednesday, the Temple University Police Association said Krasner's choice to reportedly not seek the death penalty for Pfeffer is "absolutely devastating news for the Fitzgerald family and law enforcement officers throughout Philadelphia."

According to the statement released by Marrone Law Firm, the Fitzgeralds are calling for Krasner to be recalled from his position as district attorney, and are asking Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry to give the case to Special Prosecutor Michael Untermeyer.

"He (Krasner) set a precedent," Joel Fitzgerald Sr., Fitzgerald's father, said. "And that precedent is he is not going to go after anyone who commits crimes, capital murder. He will not pursue the ultimate penalty."

Officer Fitzgerald was fatally shot following a robbery near Temple University on the night of Feb. 18, 2023. Known as "Fitz" within the Temple Police Department, Fitzgerald left behind his wife and four children, along with countless friends and family. He was posthumously promoted to sergeant during his funeral service.

Pfeffer, who was 18 at the time, is accused of shooting Fitzgerald in the head after Pfeffer and his brother were approached by officers. According to court documents, a struggle began after a brief chase before Pfeffer fired a gun at Fitzgerald.

A criminal complaint said Pfeffer continued shooting Fitzgerald while standing over him, which was caught on multiple surveillance cameras.

Following a court hearing in January 2024, Fitzgerald's family said they wanted the death penalty for Pfeffer.

"We want to make sure justice is served," Joel Fitzgerald said at the time.

In the statement released Wednesday, Joel Fitzgerald, a former Allentown police chief and veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, said "Krasner is unable to divorce himself from years as a defense attorney and has tipped the scales of justice one-way."

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