A man accused of fatally shooting three people in Quincy Township, Pa., and fleeing the state with his daughter in July pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the criminal charges filed in his case.
Kevin M. Cleeves, 35, appeared before Franklin County (Pa.) Court of Common Pleas Judge Shawn Meyers for mandatory arraignment. Cleeves said little as his public defender indicated the defendant would plead not guilty on all counts.
Cleeves is charged with three counts of criminal homicide, kidnapping of a minor, unlawful restraint of a minor, two counts of illegal possession of a firearm, interference with custody and endangering the welfare of a child.
The Franklin County District Attorney’s Office has filed the necessary paperwork that would allow it to seek the death penalty at trial.
Pennsylvania State Police allege Cleeves shot his estranged wife, Brandi N. (Killingsworth) Cleeves, in the driveway of her boyfriend’s Pa. 997 home on July 27. They say he also shot the boyfriend, Vincent L. Santucci Jr., and Santucci’s mother, Rosemary Holma.
Cleeves was apprehended hours later in Ohio with his 4-year-old daughter, Leia, who was the subject of a custody dispute between her parents in court. Cleeves is being held in the Franklin County Jail.
Among the people crowded into Meyers’ courtroom on Wednesday was Cleeves’ mother, Linda Cleeves.
She called Leia the “youngest, most vulnerable” victim in the case and said her sympathies go out to everyone else involved.
“I don’t think execution would be the best thing for (Leia). I really don’t believe that, no,” said Linda Cleeves, who traveled from Michigan for the hearing.
The families of Santucci and Brandi Cleeves previously released a statement about the possibility of the death penalty.
“The families of the victims support the district attorney’s decision to seek the death penalty for the murderer Kevin Cleeves ... It is not possible to put into words the loss and the suffering that the defendant has caused all of our families and our friends,” the statement said.
Meyers said a status conference will be held to address scheduling as the case proceeds to trial.