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  Priest Pleads Guilty in Death of Player

By Jim McKinnon
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February 23, 2005

The judge said the agreement bothered him. An attorney for the victim's family was visibly angry.

But after a priest avoided jail yesterday by pleading guilty in the death of a University of Pittsburgh football player at an alcohol-soaked party nearly two years ago, the victim's parents were conciliatory.

"I'm not going to judge anybody's heart. We got justice with the guilty plea today," said William Gaines, father of 19-year-old Billy Gaines, a Pitt wide receiver.

William Gaines and his wife, Kimberly Ann, of Ijamsville, Md., said they didn't want the defendant, the Rev. Henry Krawczyk, to go to jail.

Billy Gaines was drunk when he fell to his death from a crawl space under the roof of St. Anne Church in Homestead, breaking through a ceiling and landing on the floor of the sanctuary.

Krawczyk, 52, yesterday admitted furnishing alcohol to Gaines and other underage Pitt football players at the June 17, 2003, cookout that preceded Gaines' death. He also pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment and was sentenced to seven years' probation by Common Pleas Judge John A. Zottola.

Gaines, who had played one season at wide receiver for Pitt, had a blood alcohol level of 0.166, well above 0.10, which was the state's drunken driving threshold at the time. The limit since has been reduced to 0.08.

Gaines was living at the St. Anne convent for the summer. He was joined by several teammates at the cookout, all of them drinking freely from Krawczyk's liquor supply.

At about 2:30 a.m., Gaines died when he fell more than 20 feet from the crawl space.

Before he was sentenced yesterday, Krawczyk told Zottola that he has prayed for Gaines' family and friends. "And," Krawczyk said, "I count myself as one of them."

Zottola described himself as a "dispassionate jurist" accepting an agreement approved by the victim's family, but said he was bothered by what he called Krawczyk's lack of remorse.

"There's one thing missing. That is -- other than his plea of guilty -- Mr. Krawczyk's acceptance of responsibility for this incident," Zottola said. "That saddens me, and it angers me."

Zottola said the sentence -- five years' probation for the manslaughter plea and two years for reckless endangerment -- was the maximum he could levy under the agreement with the district attorney's office.

Zottola also ordered Krawczyk to perform 100 hours of community service, during which he is not permitted to have contact with anyone under 21 years old.

The family is suing the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Their lawyer, Christopher W. Hellmich, appeared angrier than the judge after observing Krawczyk in court.

"I have never been more outraged at a guilty plea. I cannot believe Mr. Krawczyk gave such a cold-hearted homily," Hellmich said.

He complained that Krawczyk, whose trial had been scheduled to start yesterday, waited until the last minute to enter the plea.

Before the sentencing, Kimberly Gaines read a statement describing the impact caused by the loss of her son, the eldest of three.

"Unless you walk a mile in my shoes, you can't know what it's like to want to die and be with him, [and yet] want to live to be with his brothers," she said. "Every day of my life is a struggle."

Defense attorney Robert Stewart said that Krawczyk, too, has suffered.

"A church is lost, a congregation is lost, and somewhere along the journey, [Krawczyk's] way was lost," he said.

The Gaines family's lawsuit against the diocese contends that Krawczyk had previous incidents involving alcohol and minors.

Krawczyk is on administrative leave from the diocese, which means he is barred from public ministry.

 
 

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