Bernard “Bernie” Grucza today pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the homicide of Laurence C. “Larry” Wells II at the Toys R Us store last June.
Grucza was charged with second-degree murder.
“One of the reasons my client is doing this is that he is taking responsibility for what he did and in part the other reason he is doing it is to bring closure to the Wells family, said defense attorney Frank Housh.
He will be sentenced to 25 years when he is sentenced May 19. That sentence will run concurrently with a charge of violating an order of protection related to possession of a firearm.
Grucza, a loss prevention officer for the store, was not arrested and charged until October, after DNA linked him to the fatal stabbing of Wells, an assistant manager at the Hamburg store.
At the time of the arrest, police told The Buffalo News that Grucza used a key to gain access to the building at Milestrip and McKinley in the early morning of June 29 with the intention to steal either cash or merchandise. He bumped into Wells and ended up fatally stabbing him, according to police officials.
“We do not believe he went to the store with the intention of killing the assistant manager,” a police official said at the time of the arrest. “It looks like it started out as a theft and turned into a homicide.”
Investigators said Grucza is also a suspect in other burglaries at other Toys R Stores in southern Pennsylvania.
There were several ironies in the arrest of Grucza.
In the hours after the slaying. Grucza was photographed at the store consoling fellow employees and talking on his cell phone within feet of investigators.
A Florida Gators cap was found at the scene, and DNA on the hat reportedly matched Grucza’s DNA. Grucza had lived in Florida prior to returning to Western New York.
A surveillance video from the inside the store the morning of the killing and it showed a “grainy figure” that did not exactly resemble the loss prevention officer. But upon further review, police said they became convinced if was Grucza.
“It didn’t jump off the page when you looked at it but upon closer examination you can see it is him,” a law enforcement official said.
And though Grucza was extremely cooperative throughout the investigation, but in the days, weeks and months afterward, Hamburg police had a difficult time finding him.
The slaying stunned Hamburg. A $25,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.
The FBI has been heavily involved in the case, adding that DNA evidence played an important role in the investigation.