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NEW CASTLE Girl's killer asks for life term



Published: Tue, July 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The state expects to receive a large number of requests from death row inmates under the new law.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- A Lawrence County man sentenced to death for killing an 8-year-old girl will likely walk off death row because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Attorneys for Peter Michael Karenbauer have petitioned Lawrence County Common Pleas Court to resentence him to life in prison because of the high court's decision that mentally retarded offenders may not be sentenced to death.

In papers filed in common pleas court, the state attorney general's office said it agrees Karenbauer falls under the guidelines set by the Supreme Court for a mentally retarded person.

"During trial, a commonwealth expert testified [Karenbauer] had a mild degree of retardation," said Sean Connolly, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

His crime

Karenbauer, 32, was sentenced to death in the July 1995 slaying of 8-year-old Lacy Johnson of New Castle.

Authorities said Karenbauer stabbed Lacy 18 times with a steak knife and then drowned her in a bathtub. He later stuffed the body under a bed before it was found by a family member.

He has been awaiting execution at the State Correctional Institute in Greene County, Pennsylvania, since his conviction in 1996. He was scheduled to die on June 16, 1999, but was granted a stay of execution by Judge Glenn McCracken of common pleas court when new motions were filed by his attorneys asking for a new trial.

Connolly said the state expects a large number of death row inmates to claim they fall under the mentally retarded category for purposes of relief. The attorney general expects to look at each case individually and consult with local district attorneys, he said.

Connolly said Karenbauer now must be resentenced in common pleas court. No date has been set for that hearing.

cioffi@vindy.com




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