On Jan. 16, the family of fallen Temple Police Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald saw Miles Pfferer, the 19-year-old who allegedly fatally shot Fitzgerald, for the first time in court since his arrest nearly a year ago.
After the court appearance, in which Pfeffer waived his right to a preliminary hearing and enabled the case to head to trial, Fitzgerald’s family gathered outside the courthouse, urging District Attorney Larry Krasner to pursue the death penalty in the case.
“We’ll never move on,” Jennifer Griffin, vice president of public safety, told The Temple News. “We support the family and their decision and we look forward to justice being served, whatever that justice is.”
An arraignment, or a legal proceeding where Pfeffer will state his plea, will take place Tuesday, and Krasner will make a decision concerning the family’s wishes. This is the next step before a trial date is set.
The preliminary hearing was initially postponed four times by Pfeffer’s lawyers before he ultimately waived it.
Pfeffer allegedly shot Fitzgerald multiple times in the face and chest at close range on the night of Feb. 18, 2023, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. He was arrested the following morning and has remained in custody without the option for bail at Riverside Correctional Facility.
Fitzgerald was the first member of TUPD to be killed in the line of duty.
Pennsylvania law authorizes the Commonwealth to pursue the death penalty when two factors are present: evidence to support the finding of first-degree murder — where the defendant intended to kill the victim — and evidence of at least one “aggravating circumstance,” wrote Daniel Silverman, an adjunct professor at Temple’s Beasley School of Law who has handled more than 15 death penalty cases, in a message to The Temple News.
“An aggravating circumstance is some fact about the offender or the offense that makes the case more deserving of the death penalty and demonstrates that this offender can rightly be considered one of the worst of the worst homicide offenders,” Silverman wrote. “If both of these factors are present, the Commonwealth has the right to seek the death penalty.”
Pfeffer faces first-degree murder charges, with a prior legal ruling affirming the evidence is sufficient enough to proceed to trial.
“So the first factor, evidence to support a first-degree murder conviction, is present,” Silverman wrote. “Regarding the second factor, there are at least two aggravating factors that arguably apply here: the killing of a police officer and the offender committed the killing in the course of the felony of robbery. Because of this, Mr. Pfeffer would be considered eligible for the death penalty.”
Krasner has long opposed the death penalty and released a statement on his opposition to it five days after Fitzgerald’s passing.
Gov. Josh Shapiro also called for the death penalty to be abolished in Pennsylvania just two days before Fitzgerald was shot.
“After carefully reviewing the case, Krasner will be the one making the decision whether to seek death in this case,” Silverman wrote. “Mr. Krasner was elected twice by resounding margins after promising not to seek the death penalty in any case as is his prerogative.”
Silverman believes it is unlikely Krasner will follow the Fitzgerald family’s wishes and instead seek life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the case.
Jane Roh, spokesperson and communications director of Krasner’s office, declined to comment.
Joel Fitzgerald, Christopher Fitzgerald’s father, said he wants Krasner to make a decision before Pfeffer’s Tuesday court appearance, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Since Fitzgerald’s passing, Temple has honored his death in a number of ways, including a vigil, funeral service and community basketball game hosted by TUPD. At the funeral service, Griffin announced TUPD’s decision to posthumously promote Fitzgerald to the rank of sergeant.
The Philadelphia City Council also renamed the 1700 block of Montgomery Avenue as Christopher Fitzgerald Way in honor of his death last June, and a bill to rename the post office on Bustleton Avenue as the Sergeant Christopher David Fitzgerald Post Office Building was passed out of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability on Feb. 6.
The university will keep honoring Fitzgerald’s life in other special ways, Griffin said.
“We have a plaque dedication coming up to mark the one-year anniversary,” Griffin said. “We have this beautiful plaque that a committee put together in [our] 1801 [North 11th Street location]. In 1101 [West Montgomery Avenue], we have another picture of Christopher as well as the medallion that we received from a federal law enforcement agency in our front lobby.”
TUPD will host the plaque dedication in Feinstone Lounge at Sullivan Hall on Feb. 18 at 6 p.m.
“He selflessly served the community and we continue to honor him both in our day-to-day thoughts and prayers and in the actions that we take,” Griffin said. “We’re trying to continue to make sure that the family recognizes that we’re still here for them and we’re still thinking of them and Christopher on a daily basis.”