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Prosecutors: After pattern of power abuses, Joseph Mlyniec turned to murder

For two decades, Joseph Mlyniec used his position as a Wyoming County sheriff's deputy to collect troubled young men for sexual relationships, authorities said.

He met them through criminal investigations before inviting them to work for him. Then, according to the Wyoming County District Attorney's Office, he gave them something to eat or a place to stay in exchange for sexual favors, before moving on to the next of his "boys."

But in late 2017 and early 2018, the Perry Town Board member grew increasingly worried that he couldn't keep his secret safe any longer. That fear, District Attorney Donald O'Geen said, drove Mlyniec to confront one of his former sexual partners, Robert Irvine III, on March 7 and to gun him down in Mlyniec's driveway.

"It was the worst-kept secret in Perry, but Mlyniec believed that no one outside his circle of 'his boys' knew he was gay," O'Geen said said Friday.

O'Geen spoke at a news conference in the Wyoming County Courthouse one day after Mlyniec pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a prison sentence of 15 years to life.

Court papers filed earlier shed some light on Mlyniec's motivation, but O'Geen shared previously undisclosed details about Mlyniec's past conduct, his state of mind in the days and hours leading up to the crime and the shooting itself.

Mlyniec's path to murder started last December, when someone — not Irvine — reported an allegation of sexual abuse by Mlyniec. The State Police and O'Geen's office determined that the allegation was outside the statute of limitations.

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Mlyniec's attorney told him the same thing, O'Geen said Friday, but Mlyniec still feared prosecution.

“It was mainly that concern that began the events that led to the murder on March 7, 2018," O'Geen said, according to a recording of Friday's news conference posted online by WIVB-TV.

This weighed on him more in the weeks and months after, with Mlyniec confiding in three friends about the sex-abuse allegations from December.

Mlyniec even searched online for information about police officers in prison, electronic records show, according to O'Geen.

He feared how he would be treated in prison because he was a retired sheriff's deputy and sergeant, and he discussed this with Irvine, 32, on March 6, the day before the slaying.

Irvine, according to the DA, told Mlyniec “to turn himself in or put a bullet in his head" — to kill himself, in other words.

Later in the evening of March 6, Irvine told Mlyniec he planned to go to police and tell them what Mlyniec had done to him. O'Geen said authorities don't know what that meant, but previous court papers stated Mlyniec and Irvine had a sexual relationship.

At this point, Irvine was a tenant of Mlyniec's, although Mlyniec was in the process of evicting him and his roommate.

Mlyniec has given conflicting statements about whether he started planning Irvine's murder the night of March 6 or the morning of March 7, O'Geen said.

Either way, by the morning of March 7, Mlyniec had asked Irvine to come over to his home, taken one of his guns from his gun cabinet, loaded it and hid it in his downstairs bathroom.

When Irvine arrived, Mlyniec let him in and asked him if he wanted coffee, which Irvine refused.

Mlyniec, at some point, then retrieved the gun, confronted Irvine and fired at him. He missed, and Irvine fled from the house.

Outside, Mlyniec continued to pursue and fire at Irvine. He hit him four times, O'Geen said: once in the back, once in the leg, once in the midsection and then, with Irvine begging Mlyniec not to shoot him again, Mlyniec fired one more time at point-blank range into Irvine's temple.

Mlyniec then called Irvine's roommate and told him what he had done before calling 911 and making a similar admission to the dispatcher, who recognized Mlyniec's voice, and to the responding deputies.

The shooting shocked the small town of Perry and the probe that followed brought Mlyniec's hidden life into plain view.

Investigators talked to several of the young men who Mlyniec referred to as his "boys," including one who referred to Mlyniec as "the collector."

"He was called this because he would seek out young troubled men between the ages of 17 and 22," O'Geen said. "His routine would be to ask them to work on the farm, building a relationship, and find out if they were interested in a gay relationship."

Mlyniec would provide assistance to them, but only if they repaid him with sex, O'Geen said.

When the relationship had run its course, Mlyniec would pivot toward a "father-son type" connection with the young men to ensure their silence.

Mlyniec was a retired sheriff's sergeant, Perry Town Board member, firefighter, farmer, military veteran and active member of many community organizations, and feared what people would think if the truth about his sexual activities came out.

In the same news conference, O'Geen referred to Mlyniec, who is married to a woman, as both bisexual and gay.

Mlyniec often met these teens and young men when they were involved in crimes, telling them he could help them with their charges and talking to them while they were in custody, O'Geen said.

"He would also use his position to keep people in line to make sure his secret was safe," O'Geen said. "The people who he had befriended were completely afraid of his ability to harm them, and when Robbie was murdered their fears were realized."

Mlyniec's attorney, Norman Effman, had planned to pursue a defense of extreme emotional disturbance, arguing that Mlyniec wasn't in control of his actions at the time of the slaying.

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“It was a sham,” Wyoming County Sheriff Gregory Rudolph said Friday, according to the Batavia Daily News. “This was intentional homicide right from the beginning.”

But, Effman said in an interview, the potential value of a slightly reduced prison sentence wasn't worth the pain a trial would cause to Mlyniec's friends and family and Irvine's relatives.

Prosecutors agreed not to pursue other possible charges against Mlyniec as part of the plea agreement. O'Geen said he's not aware of any sex abuse charges that could be brought against Mlyniec.

He said Mlyniec won't be eligible for parole for at least 15 years, and then every two years after that. He said he expects Mlyniec will serve significant prison time for the crime.

"It is more likely than not that he will die in prison," O'Geen said. "My recommendation to the parole board is that he never be released."

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