Judge calls sentencing postponement in Toys R Us killing ‘extremely inconvenient’ - The Buffalo News

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Judge calls sentencing postponement in Toys R Us killing ‘extremely inconvenient’

The sentencing of Bernard T. Grucza, the Toys R Us killer, was postponed Monday until July 24 so that Grucza can first be sentenced in federal court July 23 on a gun charge.

State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang was upset about the adjournment, calling the postponement “extremely inconvenient.”

Wolfgang said Frank Housh, Grucza’s defense lawyer, failed to inform the court that the parties in the case agreed at the time of his client’s guilty pleas last month in state and federal courts that Grucza would be sentenced first in federal court.

The judge said she had been prepared to sentence Grucza on his plea to first-degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum 25-year prison sentence.

“I assure you there will be no further adjournments,” she told the defense attorney.

Housh said he made a mistake in not informing Wolfgang of the agreement that the federal sentencing would precede the state sentencing. Outside the courtroom, he said federal sentencings normally precede state sentencings.

The family of slain Toys R Us assistant manager Laurence C. “Larry” Wells II came to the courtroom expecting to watch the sentencing of the man who admitted killing Wells last June in the victim’s office at the Hamburg store. Family members, including his widow and mother, declined to comment on the adjournment.

Debbie Mansfield, Wells’ mother, dabbed at tears as she left the Erie County Courthouse.

Grucza, the toy chain’s former regional vice president for loss control at the time of the attack, pleaded guilty last month to the reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter. Grucza, 39, said he used a knife to stab Wells, 35, of Blasdell.

He originally was charged with second-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

A day after Grucza’s guilty plea in state court, he pleaded guilty in federal court to possession of a firearm while facing an order of protection that his estranged wife requested after an alleged domestic incident last June.

Grucza faces a likely prison term of 12 to 18 months when sentenced July 23 by Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny. That sentence would run concurrently with his state court sentence.

At the time of the federal plea, Grucza admitted stealing more than $200,000 in cash and merchandise from Toys R Us stores and then selling the merchandise on eBay.

He also admitted stealing cash – prosecutors estimate about $19,000 – from three Toys R Us stores in Pennsylvania.

Federal prosecutors said the theft occurred after the Wells slaying.

As part of his plea agreement for the gun charge, Grucza agreed to pay $223,000 in restitution to his former employer.

Most of that, about $191,000, is a reflection of the high-priced electronic equipment he stole from Toys R Us stores in Pennsylvania and then sold on eBay.

email: jstaas@buffnews.com

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