Edward DiPofi, a World War II Army veteran from East Liberty, shot police officer Joseph Chmelynski during a burglary of the unoccupied home of Raymond and Elsie Klinzing on Broughton Rd., Bethel Township on March 5, 1948. DiPofi and his accomplice and brother-in-law, John Regis Wilson, entered the home while the Klinzing family was away on vacation.
Police responded to a call from suspicious neighbors and apprehended the two men. While handcuffed and being escorted to a police car, DiPofi used a gun concealed in his waistband to shoot Chmelynski and his partner, George Kercher. DiPofi and Wilson fled.
Police set a trap for DiPofi at his home later that evening. When two men approached the home, police opened fire with a submachine gun. The two men, who were a police officer and a passerby, were wounded.
DiPofi and Wilson were apprehended the morning after the killing, in New Eagle, Pennsylvania, after police were alerted by a suspicious taxi driver. The arrest occurred as the taxi arrived at DiPofi’s mother’s home.
Chmelynski died of his wounds on March 9, 1948.
DiPofi and Wilson were among ten men who pled guilty to burglary and larceny charges in April 1948, as they awaited trial for murder. DiPofi was sentenced to 15 to 30 years on those charges. Wilson was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison. The gun used to kill Chmelynski was among the items stolen by DiPofi.
At trial for Chmelynski’s murder, DiPofi was confronted by eyewitnesses that included Officer Kercher. He was convicted of first-degree murder on June 12, 1948 by a jury that included seven women and five men. His motion for a new trial rejected, he was sentenced to death on September 29.
After a delay to allow the passions of potential jurors to calm, Wilson made a last minute decision to plead guilty to murder in September. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on September 14, 1948.
DiPofi’s appeal, which claimed prosecutors prejudiced the jury through the introduction of evidence related to fifteen previous crimes, was rejected (Commonwealth v. DiPofi, 362 Pa. 229, 1949) in favor of the state’s strained contention that knowledge of those convictions was used by the jury only in weighing sentence. Justice Jones filed a sharply worded dissent.
DiPofi’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected.
Despite the heinousness of the crime and the strength of the case against him, a significant clemency effort was mounted on DiPofi’s behalf, involving churches, Italian organizations, and others. Central to that effort was a psychological evaluation that characterized DiPofi as a “psychoneurotic with hysteria,” that indicated he was a combat veteran of World War II who had received mental health treatment during his military service, and that he had experienced multiple traumatic head injuries as a child. This information, the report indicated, was unknown to the defense at trial.
Edward DiPofi’s clemency request was rejected on December 21, 1949, and he was executed on January 9, 1950.
He was the last white person from Allegheny County to be executed and only the second white person, along with Martin Sullivan, to be executed since 1930. Eleven black men were executed during that period.