WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) _ A jury today recommended the death sentence for a martial arts expert, once cited as a hero for saving a young boy's life, in the karate-punch slayings of three elderly women.

Roland Steele, 39, of Canonsburg, showed no emotion as the decision was announced by the same jury that convicted him Tuesday.

After Tuesday's verdict, his sister, Lavonne, yelled, ''I love you, Butch 3/8 I know you didn't do it 3/8'' before she shrieked and ran from the courtroom.

In addition to three counts of first-degree murder, Steele was convicted of two counts each of robbery and theft.

Steele was accused of the June 21 slayings of Lucille Horner, 88, Minnie Warrick, 87, and Sarah Knutz, 84, all of East Washington. Their bodies were found buried under old tires at an abandoned coal mine.

Mrs. Horner and Mrs. Warrick died of ruptured hearts, while Mrs. Knutz choked to death after her throat was crushed by a blunt force, according to testimony. The women also suffered multiple broken bones.

Steele contended District Attorney John Pettit was trying to frame him.

''I didn't kill no one,'' Steele told Pettit during testimony. ''I'm hurt and saddened that I can be charged with something so brutal, so cowardly, and that your office can try to convince these people that I did it.''

The defendant said three prosecution witnesses who claimed they saw Steele with the victims on June 21, the day they disappeared, were ''either mistaken or your office had the state police tell them to deliberately lie.''

Witnesses said they saw Steele driving Mrs. Horner's car with the women inside after the three attended a charity luncheon.

Steele, who was cited as a hero 22 years ago by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission for diving in front of a moving train to rescue a 2-year-old boy, said he never met the three women.

He said he was in Pittsburgh at the time when witnesses said he was with the women. When asked why he did not have alibi witnesses, Steele said none would come forward because they are wanted by the police.

An FBI expert said hairs of one of the victims matched hair samples found on Steele's clothes.