DA Refiles Charge against Priest in Pitt Player's Death
By Jim McKinnon
September 10, 2003
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. yesterday said he was refiling an involuntary manslaughter charge against a priest implicated in the alcohol-related death of University of Pittsburgh football player Billy Gaines.
Zappala said he disagreed with a deputy coroner's decision Monday to dismiss the charge and would petition to have another hearing, this time before a Common Pleas judge.
The Rev. Henry Krawczyk, former pastor of St. Anne Roman Catholic Church in Homestead, is accused of furnishing alcohol to Gaines, 19, at a cookout in June. Hours later, an intoxicated Gaines fell to his death from a crawl space above the church sanctuary.
At a preliminary hearing Monday, Deputy Coroner Timothy Uhrich ruled that prosecutors had not produced sufficient evidence to hold Krawczyk for trial on the involuntary manslaughter charge.
At the same proceeding, District Justice Thomas Torkowsky ordered Krawczyk to stand trial on lesser charges of reckless endangerment and furnishing alcohol to minors.
Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure allow the district attorney to refile charges that are dismissed at a preliminary hearing, and to ask the president judge of Common Pleas Court to assign someone else to hear it.
Zappala argued that the case he was preparing was unprecedented in Pennsylvania and that a judge would be required to rule on a number of legal issues.
Robert E. Stewart, one of Krawczyk's defense attorneys, said he will file motions today to try to stave off another hearing.
"The bottom line is that the commonwealth did not [adequately show] that Father Hank acted with negligence and that he knew that giving alcohol would lead to this kid crawling through this pitch black attic," Stewart said.
Prosecutors at a preliminary hearing are not required, as at trial, to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. They are only required to make what is called a prima facie showing -- a term meaning "at first sight" -- of evidence supporting the charge. If they do, the case is sent to trial.
Unlike someone who is acquitted at trial, a defendant is not necessarily cleared if charges are dismissed at a preliminary hearing.
District attorneys generally are permitted to refile the charges. Courts have placed some limits on this authority, ruling that prosecutors cannot repeatedly refile charges to harass a suspect.
Krawczyk was arrested yesterday on the refiled charge and arraigned by Torkowsky, who scheduled a hearing Sept. 18. But other court action is likely to pre-empt that.
Zappala and his first assistant, Edward J. Borkowski, have said that Krawczyk, by providing numerous drinks at the June 17 cookout to Gaines and several of his Pitt teammates, set in motion the events that led to Gaines' fatal fall.
They contend the priest's conduct was sufficiently reckless to warrant the involuntary manslaughter charge.
Gaines, of Ijamsville, Md., a wide receiver on the Pitt football team, fell at 2:30 a.m. June 18.
Gaines and David Abdul, a placekicker, were living in the church's former convent after a fire forced them from their Oakland apartment.
Toxicologists determined that Gaines had a blood alcohol level of 0.166.
A person is considered too drunk to drive in Pennsylvania with a blood alcohol content of 0.10.
Abdul and two other Pitt players, Neal Tracey and Steve Buches, testified on Monday that Krawczyk provided them with alcohol on several occasions in June. Krawczyk maintained a bar in the rectory, and in July county homicide detectives confiscated more than 100 bottles of alcohol there.
Krawczyk remains on administrative leave from St. Maximilian Kolbe parish, which includes St. Anne Church.
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