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9/14/2015 - District Attorney seeks death penalty in death of Valerie Morrow

Media, Pa – Today Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan filed notice in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas that he is seeking the death penalty in the case of Stephen Rozniakowski, who is charged with first-degree murder after he shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, Valerie Morrow. He is also charged with two counts of attempted murder and aggravated assault in the shooting of the victim’s 16-year-old daughter, Bridgette Cruz, and the victim’s husband Thomas Morrow.

“In response to the current state moratorium on the death penalty declared by Gov. Tom Wolf in February, 2015, we believe that the state Supreme Court will nullify his decision, which is fundamentally unconstitutional,” said District Attorney Jack Whelan.

On Dec. 15, 2014 at approximately 9:12 p.m., Glenolden Police were dispatched to the 600 block of Glenfield Avenue in Glenolden for a shooting of multiple victims. Upon arrival, police learned that Stephen Rozniakowski, 32, a former Colwyn Police Officer, wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with a .40-calabier handgun, kicked down the door of the Morrow’s home in Glenolden, and began firing, killing his ex-girlfriend Valerie Morrow, 40, and wounding her 15-year-old daughter. After further investigation, authorities learned that Rozniakowski had become enraged days earlier after he found out Valerie had purchased a new car with her husband. In the days leading up to her death, Rozniakowski contacted her more than 60 times and sent her 20 emails while she was at work. The harassment continued and Valerie Morrow applied for a protection-from-abuse order (PFA) in fear of her life. The shooting occurred just three hours after he was served the order and days before he was due in court in a separate stalking case involving a Montgomery County woman.

The District Attorney is seeking the death penalty based on the following aggravating circumstances as set forth in 42 Pa.C.S.A. §9711(d):

1. The defendant, Stephen Rozniakowski, committed a killing while in perpetration of a felony.
42 Pa.C.S.A. §9711(d)(6).
2. In the commission of the offense, the defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person in addition to the victim of the offense. 42 Pa.C.S.A. §9711(d)(7).

3. At the time of the killing, the victim was or had been a non-governmental informant or had otherwise provided any investigative, law enforcement or police agency with information concerning the criminal activity and the defendant committed the killing, and the killing was in retaliation for the victim’s activities as a non-governmental informant or in providing information concerning criminal activity to an investigative, law enforcement or police agency. 42 Pa.C.S.A. §9711(d)(15). 
4. At the time of the killing, the defendant was subject to a court order restricting in any way the defendant’s behavior toward the victim pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 61 (relating to protection from abuse) or any other order of a court of common pleas or of the minor judiciary designed in whole or in part to protect the victim from the defendant 42 Pa.C.S.A. §9711(d)(18.).

In Delaware County, the year 2014 was one of the deadliest in history, with the loss of 49 people at the hands of another. Six of the 10 women murdered in 2014 were killed in domestic incidents, an unusually high number for Delaware County which doubled last year, as compared to 2013. So far this year, there has been one domestic related death.

In spring 2015, District Attorney Jack Whelan assembled a committee that has a vested interest in domestic abuse and how domestic abuse related cases are addressed in the criminal justice system as well as Protection from Abuse (PFA) court. The District Attorney’s Domestic Abuse Review Team is currently reviewing the law enforcement process of serving PFA orders from inception on through Magisterial District Court and the Court of Common Pleas, with the goal to review best practices and to implement changes for improvement within the criminal justice system. 

“From a law enforcement perspective, we established this committee to examine investigative techniques surrounding domestic abuse, from the original response call by the patrol officer, through each step in the criminal justice system,” said District Attorney Jack Whelan.

In addition, the District Attorney’s Office is working with the Domestic Abuse Project (DAP) of Delaware County to better identify and serve high risk victims of domestic violence through the implementation of a county-wide Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) for all police officers in Delaware County, a procedure that can help identify threats before violence occurs and save lives.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or is a survivor of sexual assault, the Domestic Violence Project can help.  The Domestic Abuse Project is located at 14 West Second Street in Media, and operates a 24-hour hotline: 610-565-4590.