Wade sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing Wolfe sisters
After 20 days of testimony and deliberations, the jurors who convicted Allen Wade of murdering his East Liberty neighbors, sisters Susan and Sarah Wolfe, could not agree on whether to sentence him to death.
The jury deliberated for five hours Wednesday and 3 1⁄2 hours Thursday before announcing they were deadlocked over whether to sentence Wade, 45, to the death penalty or to life without parole for the Feb. 6, 2014, slayings.
“I like it that Wade’s in prison,” said Kevin Wolfe, one of Susan and Sarah’s brothers, after the sentencing. “We don’t have the death penalty in Iowa, but he is in prison, and he is marked as a murderer of two women.”
As the law requires, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Edward Borkowski imposed a sentence of life without parole. He gave Wade two consecutive life sentences, one for each victim, plus three consecutive terms of 10 to 20 years for two counts of robbery and one count of burglary.
The same jury of seven women and five men had convicted Wade on Monday on all charges, including two counts of first-degree murder, for killing the Wolfes in their Chislett Street home, stealing their bank cards and Sarah Wolfe’s car, and withdrawing $600 from Sarah’s bank account.
Defense attorneys Lisa Phillips and Lisa Middleman hugged each other and shook Wade’s hand just after court staff shared the jury’s statement about the impasse.
“We’ve taken several votes. … It doesn’t look like we are going to be able to move one way or another,” the statement read.
The panel was split 9-3 in favor of the death penalty, but the holdouts could not be swayed, jurors said afterward.
“I think the jury was very conscientious, and I think we were very thorough,” said Gwendolyn Kerr, an alternate brought in to replace original Juror No. 4 after he looked up Wade’s criminal history and brought it up to other jurors on the first day of deliberations on whether Wade was guilty.
Kerr noted that after the judge instructed the rest of the panel to disregard the dismissed juror and what he said, the topic never came up. She didn’t learn why she had been called until after the trial was over.
Kerr, a former hospital lab technician, said she found it easier to grasp the DNA evidence in the case than other jurors did.
“Everyone had differing reasons for their conviction. Different things swayed different people,” Kerr said.
But during the penalty phase, jurors couldn’t agree on how much weight to give the Wade family’s testimony about his helpful nature as a child or his love for his late grandmother, Kerr said. One refused to consider the death penalty at all, so the majority gave up on convincing the other two.
Another juror, who declined to give her name, said she was upset over the deadlock but glad Wade was convicted.
“Justice was not served here,” she said.
The other jurors declined to give their names or comment further, though the foreman said the past 20 days was a heavy burden that finally has been lifted.
Christy Wolfe, one of Susan and Sarah’s sisters, praised the jury and said she felt it ruled with thoughtfulness and a sense of duty.
“I could say so much about Suzy and Sarah, but I think the best thing is just that they were, they were … so important,” she said.
In victim impact statements read Tuesday, she and her sister Katie Wolfe told jurors how much Sarah, 38, and Susan, 44, meant to them and their children. Katie’s oldest daughter had planned to move in with the sisters after high school and volunteer at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Oakland, where Sarah was a psychiatrist.
Though the defense alleged investigators rushed to pin the murders on Wade under pressure from prosecutors and the media, Kevin Wolfe said he has great respect and admiration for the prosecutors and homicide detectives. At one point, investigators flew to meet the family at their Iowa home to review evidence.
As he was led from the courtroom, Wade told his parents in the gallery, Vivian “Bunny” Wade and Allen “Sonny” Wade, that he loved them. Afterward, his great-aunt, Jeanette Howard, apologized to the Wolfe family and said things were “in God’s hands.”
Prosecutors Bill Petulla and Rob Schupansky declined to comment, as did defense attorneys Middleman, Phillips and Aaron Sontz.
Middleman told Borkowski that post-sentencing motions will be filed on Wade’s behalf that will challenge aspects of the conviction, and will seek extra time because of the need to prepare a transcript of the lengthy trial.
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412 391 0927 or [email protected].