Ronald G. O’Shea

Ronald O’Shea had worked at Liberty Avenue News, part of the seedy downtown red light district of the era, until being fired for stealing money. Soon after, on November 21, 1985, he returned to the store, stole knives, throwing stars, gold chains, and cash, and killed store clerk Herbert George Kleber, 23, with a machete.

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Pittsburgh Press, November 22, 1985

Kleber’s body was found by police during routine patrol early the next morning. He lived in Homestead with his wife and infant daughter.

Due to his recent firing and his extensive criminal history, Ronald O’Shea quickly became a suspect. The day after the murder, police drove to O’Shea’s brother’s home in Shaler, where Ronald was staying. Given permission to search Ronald’s room in his absence, they found items matching those that had been stolen.

O’Shea returned home while the police were still present and agreed to accompany them to the police station. En route, he discussed the case and ultimately confessed. According to O’Shea, he had returned to Liberty Avenue News for repayment of a small debt Kleber owed him. When Kleber punched him, O’Shea killed him.

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Pittsburgh Press, November 23, 1985

After a two-day trial, O’Shea was convicted on July 11, 1986. With felony murder as an aggravating circumstance that supports the death penalty, the prosecution sought and obtained the death penalty the following day.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 12, 1986

O’Shea’s death sentence was upheld on appeal (Commonwealth v. O’Shea, 523 Pa. 384, 1990). The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed O’Shea’s appeal on October 1, 1990.

O’Shea had a criminal record dating to 1959 that included robbery and burglary convictions and a prior murder conviction. On October 27, 1971, he strangled Thomas Washington, a postal worker, in East Liberty after Washington rejected his advance. O’Shea was convicted in 1972. That conviction was reversed in 1974 when the State Supreme Court ruled his confession was inadmissible because it was provided in questioning conducted before O’Shea had been informed of his Miranda rights (Commonwealth v. O’Shea, 456 Pa. 288, 1974).

The state appealed that reversal. After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, the state failed to refile the charges within the 30-day time period required by the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result, the trial court dismissed the charges. When the state’s challenge to that dismissal was rejected (Commonwealth v. O’Shea, 465 Pa. 491, 1976), O’Shea was freed.

Returned to jail on robbery and burglary charges in 1976, O’Shea told authorities he had been approached by fellow inmate Charles Goldblum with an offer of $10,000 to kill four men, including three police officers.

Ronald O’Shea died of pneumonia on death row on February 1, 2000. He was 57 years old.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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