Patrick Stollar was working as a day laborer for a landscaping company at Jean Heck’s home in affluent Upper St. Clair on May 30, 2003. After casing the home and developing his plans to rob and kill Mrs. Heck, he skipped work for the next few days as the crew finished at Heck’s home.
Returning there alone on June 4, he entered the home, killed Heck, a 78-year old widow, and ransacked her purse and house. He then tried unsuccessfully to cash several forged checks at local banks.
Tracked down based on evidence in Heck’s home and eyewitness identification provided by a neighbor, Stollar was arrested at a friend’s home on June 6. He immediately confessed to police, acknowledging that he used his job as cover for his criminal plans. He then led the police to the site where he had buried evidence of the crime, including the murder weapon.
Other than drunk driving, Stollar had no criminal record, though he had a long history of employment, financial, and interpersonal problems. Friends reported that the well-liked and easy going Stollar had changed recently, becoming angrier. He was taking medications to treat anxiety and depression.
After lengthy negotiations, Stollar was allowed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and waive his right to a jury trial in both the guilt and penalty phases of his case. He entered that guilty plea on May 1, 2006, leaving the court the right to sentence him to life imprisonment or to death.
Unexpectedly, Stollar withdrew his plea the next day, explaining that if a guilty plea left him vulnerable to a death sentence, he would rather face a jury. Stollar is reported to have attempted suicide after pleading guilty.
In preparation for trial, Stollar sought and was granted the right to represent himself. After two lengthy delays while he received in-patient mental health treatment, the second of which was granted after another suicide attempt, Stollar went to trial in February 2008.
Representing himself, he was found guilty on February 20, 2008, and was sentenced to death two days later. His conviction and sentence were sustained on appeal (Commonwealth v. Stollar, 624 Pa. 107, 2014), after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that his various claims were “hollow,” “baseless,” “ridiculous,” and “fail woefully.” Quoting an earlier decision, the Court reaffirmed that “The right of self-representation is not a license to abuse the dignity of the courtroom” (at 133).
Stollar remains in prison under a sentence of death.