The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

November 29, 2012

Seward man admits role in death, gets probation

INDIANA — A Seward resident admitted he violently assaulted a Belsano man in 2008 and was responsible for his death 36 hours later.

Stephen Shesko, 64, received five years of probation for the crime on Wednesday. The case was delayed for years by Shesko’s health issues and a debate regarding their severity.

Wheelchair-bound and wearing braces all over his body, Shesko was determined months ago to be fit for trial.

But after Shesko’s involuntary manslaughter plea in Eric Melius’ death, Indiana Judge William Martin on Wednesday indicated the defendant was perhaps not fit for a term in the county jail.

“Your health issues were greatly exaggerated ... but there’s credible evidence to (show) you have significant medical issues – and that incarceration isn’t appropriate at this time,” Martin said.

The ruling ended a four-year case and drew mixed emotions from the Melius family.

Shesko was bear hunting in Buffington Township, near the Cambria County line, when the fight with Melius took place. It was sparked after Melius, 28, taunted Amish youngsters who were part of Shesko’s hunting party.

“Your behavior that day is totally unacceptable in a civilized society,” Martin told Shesko, reminding the defendant that he had several opportunities to walk away from the fight but instead chose to take another swing.

Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty noted Shesko kicked and punched Melius in the head and neck. And he didn’t stop after the Belsano man fell to the ground wounded.

Melius died 36 hours later after seeking hospital treatment but then leaving against a doctor’s orders.

“You don’t kick a man when he’s down,” Melius’ father, Wyatt, said in court.

He recalled his son sitting on his lap as a boy and shooting his first buck years ago.

Then he lamented that Melius won’t be here to take over the family business he worked to build.

Kayla Warzel, Melius’ girlfriend at the time, said she has kept videos, photos and even an answering machine message to try to keep Melius’ memory alive for their 5-year-old daughter.

The Cambria County woman said she became hooked on painkillers in an attempt to cope with her boyfriend’s death. Warzel said she since has straightened out her life.

“We’re all paying the price for what (occurred) that day,” Melius’ sister, Tracy, said, fighting tears during testimony. She said it was Shesko’s turn to pay.

Shesko did not address the court, aside from responding to Martin’s questions by saying “yes” or “no, your honor.”

He whispered to his attorney, David Weaver, who said Shesko “deeply regretted” his actions.

“If he was in his 20s and healthy ... he’d probably be going to jail now,” Dougherty said, adding he didn’t expect a prison sentence. He called the ruling “fair.”

Behind bars, Shesko – a war veteran who has suffered strokes and other ailments – would be the county’s responsibility. And his care would be taxpayer-funded, Dougherty said.

This way, “He’s still going to be under supervision for five years,” he said.

The district attorney also noted that Shesko’s admission of guilt was important.

Melius’ family agreed, calling it vindication.

“We were never going to have justice. We will never have Eric back,” said Michaela Melius, the victim’s mother. “But at least he’s being held accountable.”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • Halfway house inmates can ease back into society

    Prison life can be a time warp.
    When inmates are locked away – for months, years, decades – society moves forward: Technology evolves, major events occur, pop culture changes. From a personal perspective, families and friends live their lives: weddings, funerals, graduations, births, retirements. All the while, criminals bide their time, existing in a regimented world of cement walls and metal bars.
    Almost all of them eventually rejoin society, though.

    April 19, 2014

  • Crime board took aim at house

    Johnstown’s unemployment rate is around 8 percent.
    One-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.
    Burglaries and assaults significantly increased between 2010 and 2012. There is a thriving illegal trade in heroin and prescription drugs.
    Given those conditions, it can be challenging for Johnstown Community Corrections Center residents to find jobs when living in the facility or to avoid falling back into a criminal lifestyle upon their release.

    April 19, 2014

  • Homicides linked to center

    Three homicides that took place in Johnstown last year involved either a suspect or victim who previously resided in the Community Corrections Center.
    Police Chief Craig Foust confirmed the name of one victim, who spent almost two months in the facility on Washington Street during 2007, a time period verified by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

    April 19, 2014

  • bachota Volunteers helping to spruce up community

    Walls and ceilings inside the Cambria County Library look clean and bright with fresh new coats of paint on them.
    The work was recently done by inmates from the Johnstown Community Corrections Center.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • alanna Hartzok targets income disparity

    Alanna Hartzok described herself as being a conservative progressive.
    The Franklin County resident said she is in favor of conserving environmental resources, education opportunities, Social Security and Medicare, while wanting to progressively address wealth inequality, health care and taxation.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Schools rise to leadership challenge

    Forest Hills and Cambria Heights high school students put the spirit of healthy competition toward a good cause and picked up some lessons in leadership along the way.

    April 19, 2014

  • KATEY LADIKA Student’s photos win awards

    A Forest Hills High School junior has captured several awards in a high school arts and writing contest that has identified greats such as Truman Capote and Andy Warhol.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Siehl JIM SIEHL | Music to my ears

    Seldom has $15 produced such a high level of entertainment as it did a few weeks ago when I found myself in the second row just left of center keeping back the tears once again during my third live performance of “Les Miserables.”

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Michele Bender Bye, bye, Easter birdies

    Animals fascinated my mom. Riding the train between Johnstown and Philly, she saw horses, pigs, sheep, cows … a Mattel See ’n Say of farm critters.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Travelogue of terror features Johnstown area

    A historic week will surround the venerable Silver Drive-In come the beginning of May.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

Poll

Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
House Ads