David Salasky, the man who stabbed New Castle County Police officer Joseph Szczerba to death in September 2011, pleaded guilty to a series of charges Monday.
The plea allows Salasky to avoid the death penalty.
"This guilty plea in New Castle County Superior Court brings us closer to concluding a tragic and painful chapter for Delaware law enforcement and for our entire community," Attorney General Joseph "Beau" Biden said in a statement. "David Salasky's plea of guilty but mentally ill recognizes that he is criminally responsible for the murder of Lieutenant Joseph Szczerba, and that Salasky is chronically and seriously mentally ill.
"This resolution – the finality of a conviction and the certainty of a life sentence – is in the best interest of justice and it allows the Szczerba family, the New Castle County Police, and us all to move forward with healing and continuing to honor the memory of Joseph Szczerba every day," Biden added.
On Sept. 16, 2011, after responding to a report of a theft from a motor vehicle and disorderly person in New Castle, Lt. Szczerba observed and approached David Salasky, a subject who matched the suspect's description. A foot pursuit ensued and resulted in a struggle, during which Szczerba suffered fatal stab wounds. Salasky continued to actively resist by fighting other officers, two of whom sustained injuries.
Salasky was indicted by the New Castle County Grand Jury on multiple counts of murder, burglary, weapons, and assault charges in December 2011.
Jury selection for the trial against Salasky had begun Monday in New Castle County Superior Court before Salasky pled guilty before Superior Court Judge William C. Carpenter, Jr. Monday afternoon.
New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon said he agreed that the plea deal was best for all parties.
"I trust the attorney general, the chief of police as well as [Szczerba's] family if that's their choice," said Gordon.
"There's always going to be a weak spot for all of us for [Szczerba]," he added.
Gordon said he hoped the guilty plea helped bring closure for the police force, and said Police Chief Col. Elmer Setting was meeting with members of the department and explaining that the plea deal "was the best way to proceed."
Specifically, Salasky, now 35, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to 15 felony charges, including two counts of first-degree murder for the death of Sgt. Szczerba, along with four counts of possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony, two counts of possession of a deadly weapon by person prohibited, one count of resisting arrest, one count of attempted first-degree robbery, one count of second degree assault, and four counts of third degree burglary.
As a condition of the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to not seek the death penalty at sentencing.
Page 2 of 2 - Delaware law requires that the judge now make an independent determination that Salasky was mentally ill at the time of the crime before he imposes sentence. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered by the court and a sentencing date has not been set at this time.
Salasky faces a mandatory sentence of two life prison terms without the possibility of parole, plus up to 153 additional years in prison.
Szczerba was born on June 26, 1967 in Wilmington to Jean "Ray" and Edward Joseph Szczerba.
In 1994, he was hired as a police officer, and after completing his training and graduating from the New Castle County Police Academy in 1995, was assigned to the patrol division.
In 2000, he transferred to the Criminal Investigations United where he was assigned to the Family Services Unit.
He was a well-respected officer, receiving three unit citations, two for homicide investigations and one for a burglary investigation. He also received a commendation of merit for a robbery investigation, along with several letters of commendations and appreciation.
Szczerba attended grade school at Corpus Christi in Elsmere and Salesianum High School in Wilmington, where he played football. He graduated in 1985.