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October 17, 2013

Suspect pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter

EBENSBURG — A Johnstown man who was robbing a 64-year-old McMillen Street man when the older man died, entered a guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter and other charges in Cambria County court Thursday.

Keenan Alan Snyder, 20, admitted playing a role in the Nov. 11, 2011, death of Robert C. Kuharcik.

The plea agreement also included charges of robbery, driving under the influence-second offense with refusal to take a blood alcohol test and two counts of driving under suspension.

The alcohol and driving pleas were in connection with incidents that occurred in March and April of this year in Johns-town and Dale Borough, Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan told Judge Linda Fleming.

Fleming immediately revoked Snyder’s bond Thursday and he was taken to the Cambria County Prison.

City Detective Lawrence Wagner testified that officers were called to the Kuharcik apartment in the 300 block of McMillen Avenue for a report of a suspicious death.

An autopsy showed that Kuharcik died of a stress-induced heart attack with secondary causes listed as severe coronary artery disease and multi-drug toxicity.

Wagner said Kuharcik, who was suffering from cancer, found the prescribed drugs were not sufficient and he was self-medicating.

Also found on the body were cuts to the victim’s  face and hands, what Wagner described as “defensive wounds.”

The investigation showed Kuharcik, a veteran who had come in contact with Agent Orange while in Vietnam,  recently had received a $200,000 settlement from the Veterans Administration.

Wagner said text messages showed Snyder contacting a caregiver at the Kuharcik home, asking her to leave a door or window open.

Snyder’s DNA  was found on a single-blade kitchen knife.

Callihan said the myriad of health problems suffered by Kuharcik and the wide variety of drugs found in his system made it difficult to pursue a conviction on any of the higher degrees of homicide.

“We evaluated everything and we felt manslaughter was what we could pursue,” she said.

Daughter Bobbetta Kuharcik testified that the death of her father has had a significant emotional impact on her and her mother, Nancy Kuharcik.

“The details of the crime sicken me. I will no longer stay in my house alone at night,” she said.

She constantly checks door locks and sleeps with a baseball bat next to the bed. She added that often she does not fall asleep until after daybreak.

“I don’t understand why Keenan had to rob him at all. He would have given him the shirt off his back,” Bobbetta Kuharcik said.

“He died because some kid decided to take something that didn’t belong to him.”

The victim’s grandson and nephew also told the court about the loss they have suffered because of Kuharcik’s death.

Defense attorney Richard Messina asked Fleming to allow Snyder to remain out of jail until sentencing so he can spend time with his family, especially his

6-month-old daughter.

Fleming rejected the request, noting Snyder wants to spend time with his family, yet his actions robbed others of a loved one.

Kathy  Mellott covers the Cambria County courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ kathymellotttd.

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