A Beaverdale man who claimed he struck another with a baseball bat in self-defense and as a way to frighten him will be going to prison for longer than many anticipated.
Gregory Russell Conzo, 52, was sentenced Tuesday to 15 to 40 years in state prison and ordered to make restitution of $7,500 for the Nov. 5, 2012, attack on Michael Pcola, 38, in a Summerhill Township home.
The sentence was significantly longer than the 10 to 30 years anticipated for the third-degree murder plea reached between Conzo and the prosecution on Dec. 18.
“It was not self-defense,” said Lois Pcola, Conzo’s former paramour and mother of the victim.
She added that she was pleased that the defendant will be behind bars for longer than expected.
The history portrayed by two of Lois Pcola’s daughters in statements to the judge was one of two decades of drug and alcohol abuse from Conzo coupled with his intense need for control and out-of-control anger.
Krista Pcola said she first met Conzo when she was 13 years old.
“He had a beer between his legs ... and I’ve never stopped crying since I met him,” she said. “He was an alcoholic and drug abuser, and he hated all of us. He made our lives hell for 22 years.”
The sister of the victim recalled years of verbal and emotional abuse doled out by Conzo and physical abuse, mostly to her mother.
“If we did something wrong he’d punch her in the face and say “look at what you did to your mother.”
Summerhill Township police Chief Paul Bonfanti, who responded to the Pcola-Conzo home on the 100 block of Sierra Street for domestic abuse calls on more occasions than he can remember, would say only of the sentence: “It was better than I thought.”
It was an earlier case of domestic abuse by Conzo on Lois Pcola that sparked the baseball bat attack on the victim.
In May 2012, Conzo was charged with an attack on his paramour of many years. On Nov. 5, an intoxicated Conzo was attempting to convince her to go with him to the courthouse in Ebensburg the next day on his simple assault charges.
Hearing shouting, Michael Pcola, who had been living in the home for some time, came from the second floor and the situation escalated out of control.
Speaking at his guilty plea, Conzo said he swung the baseball bat, initially hitting his daughter, Marie Conzo, on the arm, then swung a second time and hit Michael Pcola.
He denied any intent to hurt Michael Pcola, something Kenneth Sottile of the Cambria County Public Defender’s Office repeated Tuesday.
“I think he’s remorseful, contrary to the testimony today,” Sottile said after the sentencing. “I don’t think it was intentional. We’re talking about one blow and he fled.”
After the blow, Conzo fled into the woods, while back at the house Summerhill Township police Officer Donald Wyar, responding to the 911 call, found an unconscious Michael Pcola.
Wyar performed CPR and was able to get a pulse, but the victim died two days later at Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown of head injuries.
Cambria County Assistant District Attorney Forrest Fordham said the sentence, longer than was anticipated, is not a basis for Conzo to withdraw his guilty plea and go before a jury.
“It was within the range and we’re satisfied,” Fordham said following the sentencing. “I believe the judge considered all the facts, and I believe his sentence was appropriate.”
Sottile said that while he had hoped for a shorter sentence, the number of years was not spelled out in the plea agreement signed by Conzo.
Speaking on behalf of the defendant, his brother Michael Conzo told the judge of a hard scrabble life he, Gregory and their two other brothers had as youngsters.
He said they spent most of their youth bouncing around from one foster home to another and he, as with Gregory, had a drinking problem until he was able to get into recovery 25 years ago.
“It was his drinking. You’re not all there when you drink ...” Michael Conzo said. “It happened in a couple seconds ... I believe it truly was an accident.”
Michael Conzo said he had to “Give Lois a lot of credit,” for putting up with all she did over the years.
Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County Courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.