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Teen pleads guilty to killing Bell County deputy sheriff

A Delaware teen pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing a Bell County deputy sheriff by crashing into his cruiser while being chased by other police.

David J. Poppiti, 18, pleaded guilty to wanton murder in the death of Deputy Sean Pursifull and to fleeing and evading police.

The plea agreement calls for a sentence of 20 years on the murder charge and five years on the fleeing charge, to be served consecutively.

The murder conviction is considered a violent offense, so Poppiti will have to serve 85 percent of the 20 years before being eligible for parole, said Commonwealth's Attorney Karen Greene Blondell.

The chase that ended in Pursifull's death started after Poppiti, of New Castle, Del., and Eric Gerren, of Lincoln University, Pa., then 16, drove away from a gas station in Harlan County early on Jan. 10, 2008, without paying for gas.

Police quickly spotted them and tried to stop them, but the teens fled at high speeds along U.S. 119 into Bell County. Poppiti was driving.

Pursifull, 31, parked beside the road outside Pineville to assist if needed. His dog King, a German shepherd trained to search for drugs, was with him.

Poppiti veered off the road as he approached and slammed into Pursifull's car, killing him and King.

Poppiti and Gerren were not badly injured.

Poppiti's trial started Monday. After potentially damaging testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, he decided to plead guilty.

A man who was in jail with Poppiti testified he overheard the teen say the wreck was not an accident, and that he laughed about it.

Gerren testified that he took his stepmother's car a couple of days before the wreck in order to run away, and that Poppiti had come with him.

Shortly before they left the Northeast, the two had gotten in trouble when a police officer stopped them while Poppiti had some marijuana.

They ended up in Harlan after getting on U.S. 119 somewhere during the trip. Gerren testified that they didn't have a specific destination when they left home — just "someplace warm," Blondell said.

Pursifull's mother, Bernice Pursifull Mills; Sheriff Bruce Bennett; and state police investigators Lt. P.J. Burnett and Detective Mitchell Williams OK'd the deal for Poppiti to plead guilty, Blondel said.

The prosecutor said the agreement is a good outcome in the case.

"It balances the law enforcement personnel's belief that it was murder but also shows a recognition of his youth," Blondell said.

Poppiti will be sentenced June 8.

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