Father Explains Difficult Plea Deal

By Eric Heyl
Pittsburgh Tribune Review
February 27, 2005

A slap on the wrist it was not.

No, the penalty the Rev. Henry Krawczyk received Tuesday after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in connection with Billy Gaines' death didn't rise even to that level. His sentence was more of a manicure, a hand massage.

Yet the parents of the 19-year-old University of Pittsburgh football player, William and Kimberly Gaines, astoundingly approved the plea agreement enabling Krawczyk to walk away virtually scot-free.

Accused of the troubling habit of providing underage drinkers with alcohol in the past, Krawczyk did just that in June 2003 to Gaines, teammate David Abdul and several friends. The drinking occurred while Krawczyk hosted a cookout for the young men at St. Anne Church in Homestead, where he was pastor.

During the party, Gaines and Abdul stupidly climbed to a crawl space above the church ceiling. Gaines lost his balance, fell 25 feet to the floor below and died the next day.

Gaines himself certainly bears some responsibility for his fatal fall. But would he have attempted such a stunt if he hadn't been drinking Krawczyk's booze?

Had he been convicted of the involuntary manslaughter charge, Krawczyk could have gone to prison for five years. Instead, Krawczyk left the courtroom after being sentenced to seven years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

Why did the Gaines family agree to such leniency?

"It was a difficult decision to make," a soft-spoken William Gaines said from his home in Ijamsville, Md. "I can see why people might not understand."

So he began to explain.

"The district attorney's office had advised us that getting an involuntary manslaughter conviction was a long shot. We didn't want to go through a long, emotional trial and not get a guilty verdict, so we were open to him taking some responsibility by pleading guilty."

Gaines and his wife also were concerned that if he went to prison, Krawczyk might suffer the same fate as John Geoghan. A defrocked Archdiocese of Boston priest and convicted child molester, Geoghan was murdered in prison two years ago.

Pressed about how realistic that concern was given that most prisoners probably wouldn't consider Krawczyk's offense nearly as grievous as Geoghan's crimes, Gaines paused.

"I don't like to compare calamity. I don't like to compare the abuse of hundreds of innocent souls to blood on a pew," he said. "There probably would be some prisoners in there who wouldn't care what (Krawczyk) had done. They would still harm him."

The family has filed a $75 million civil lawsuit against Krawczyk and the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, but they don't expect complete closure even when the litigation concludes.

"My wife wants her son back, and he's not coming back," Gaines said. "It's been 20 months now, and she still wakes up in tears. She did it again this morning."

Krawczyk, meanwhile, awoke a free man who has escaped any tangible consequence for his actions. He has yet to even apologize to the family, so I don't believe he spends much time crying over Billy Gaines.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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