Photo: Merritt Law Firm

Richard Nicoletti is not a murderer.

Let’s be clear about that.

Pennsylvania law describes first-degree murder as an “intentional killing” and second-degree murder as a criminal homicide “committed while [the] defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.”

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So when Officer Nicoletti, a 29-year-veteran of Philadelphia’s police force, shot and killed unarmed Jeffrey Dennis on August 20, it was not murder. Even though Dennis was unarmed, it was not murder. Even though five other officers on the scene did not fire their weapons, it was not murder. Even though there is video of 53-year-old Nicoletti pulling the trigger at point-blank range, it was not murder.

And even though I am not a lawyer, I can assure you this is not murder because, according to Philly.com, Nicoletti will not face criminal charges for firing three rounds into Dennis’ head and arm, killing the 36-year-old at the scene. The brave officer should never be called a murderer, because state attorney Josh Shapiro has declared it so.

Dennis, the engaged father of three, was traveling down a one-way street when an unmarked police car entered the street going the wrong way. The narcotics team was headed to Dennis’ home to serve a search warrant when they said they spotted his Camry on a street near his home.

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In the footage captured by a nearby coffee shop, Dennis backs his car up after seeing the unmarked car going the wrong way. He is then blocked by another unmarked car.

After Dennis is blocked in, six plainclothes officers jump out of the two cars. Five surround Dennis’ car and the other goes to the trunk to get what appears to be a pickaxe, to break Dennis’ window. Dennis continues to attempt to maneuver his way out of the blockade and Nicoletti (in the gray shirt) fires three times into the drivers side.

Dennis is pronounced dead on the scene.

The video was made public on Tuesday, when Shapiro announced that no officers will face criminal charges for Dennis’ death.

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“My office conducted a thorough four-month review of this case, interviewing witnesses, examining video footage, and analyzing all available evidence,” the state’s attorney said in a statement. “We applied the facts to Pennsylvania law, and accordingly, no criminal charges against Richard Nicoletti will be filed by my office.”

Shapiro’s office noted that, while criminal charges won’t be filed, the officer could still face disciplinary punishment. The Philadelphia Police Department said it is still conducting its investigation.

At the time of Dennis death, a police officer hadn’t been criminally charged with an on-duty shooting in nearly 2 decades. In September, Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner charged Ryan Pownall with the murder of David Jones, who was shot in the back by Pownall in June.

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Krasner, known for his criminal justice reform, had to recuse himself from prosecuting the Dennis case because he once served as Dennis’ defense attorney.

Philadelphia’s policy forbids officers from shooting into a moving vehicle. They are also forbidden from shooting “to subdue a fleeing individual who presents no immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to themselves or another person.”

But this was not murder. Maybe there is no such thing as murder...

Or justice.