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  ...An Imperfect Plea
A Priest Avoids Jail Time for a Student's Death

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February 25, 2005

You don't have to be an unholy terror to get a break in court. If you are a man of the cloth, mercy also falls like a gentle rain on the place beneath. Witness what occurred Tuesday in the courtroom of Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge John A. Zottola.

The message from this court, again with the help of the district attorney's office, was that you can have a merry party for underage drinkers, and if one gets drunk and dies in an accident, you won't be sentenced to any time behind bars.

The facts are these: At 2:30 a.m. on June 18, 2003, Billy Gaines, a 19-year-old football player at the University of Pittsburgh, crashed through a ceiling inside St. Anne Church in Homestead. Together with some other Pitt teammates, the young man had attended a cookout at the church rectory. When Mr. Gaines died, he had a blood alcohol level of 0.166, considerably above the legal limit at the time.

The man who supplied his young guests with liquor was a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Henry Krawczyk. He admitted that on Tuesday and he also pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment. For this serious matter he received a less-than-serious penalty: seven years' probation. He must also perform 100 hours of community service.

It is little comfort that this was the most that Judge Zottola could impose under the terms of an agreement worked out with the district attorney's office. That agreement was the problem, even though it reflected the fact that the young man's parents, William Gaines and his wife, Kimberly Ann, didn't want the priest to go to jail.

To be sure, the parents' compassion is commendable, but we do not live in one of those countries where punishments are determined by relatives of the victim. Certainly, their views could be a factor in being merciful, but this wasn't mercy, it was capitulation. Even Judge Zottola and the family's attorney were left feeling disturbed by the agreement.

This is not a matter of demanding a pound of flesh. Even a sentence of three months in jail would have sent a message to society at large, which also has a stake in seeing that punishments fit the crime.

 
 

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