Mentally ill shooter speaks out

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A Logan Township man who went on a shooting spree 49 months ago admitted in court Friday he was suffering from mental illness at the time, and he advised people in similar circumstances not to be afraid to reach out for help.

Joseph B. Olecki, 37, received a state prison sentence of seven to 14 years from Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva after pleading guilty to aggravated assault of his estranged girlfriend. Olecki fired 21 shots into the woman’s home on March 16, 2009.

He entered additional pleas to possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of weapons of mass destruction, risking a catastrophe and theft of an automobile.

The day after the Blair County shooting, Olecki drove to his native Scranton and went to his old neighborhood, where he shot a husband and wife who were in their yard with their small children.

Blair County Deputy Assistant District Attorney Wade Kagarise said that Olecki’s charges in Lackawanna County still must be heard.

Olecki’s Altoona attorney, Joel Peppetti, said Olecki is aware that he still must face attempted homicide charges in Scranton and knows it is possible he will receive additional prison time.

Olecki was taken into custody by police on March 17, 2009, when he returned to Blair County from Scranton.

Police were on the lookout for him after being tipped off that he was returning from Scranton, and they corralled his car at Mill Run Road and 31st Street.

Police found an AK-47, 500 rounds of ammunition and six homemade pipe bombs in his vehicle.

The girlfriend, who now serves as Olecki’s power of attorney, went before Kopriva prior to imposition of the sentence and said that even though she was a victim, she wanted to speak on Olecki’s behalf.

She said she still loved him.

She said that while Olecki, an automobile mechanic, was a man of compassion, she also knew his evil side, a man who threatened and carried out violence.

His girlfriend said Olecki’s medication has been stabilized, which she said resulted in a change for the positive over the past year.

Olecki also spoke at his sentencing, thanking the judges who handled his case and the prosecution for sending him to the State Hospital in Norristown, where he received mental health treatment.

He said that before the shooting spree, he was seeing a psychiatrist but wasn’t being given the right medication.

“The medication,” he said, “definitely works if you get the medication you need.”

Kopriva told Olecki he was fortunate that nobody in Blair County was hurt. If that had happened, she said, “There would be different consequences.”

The Olecki case is poignant in view of the nationwide debate over gun control and the stunning acts violence and mass shootings that have occurred in recent months.

“Mental illness is a serious issue,” Olecki said, adding that it needs to be addressed. He said it was by the grace of God that he received help from many people and that he has been stabilized on his medication.

“God was helping me. I know that,” he said.

Peppetti said that he had explored a mental health defense for Olecki but noted that Dr. Richard Fischbein, a psychiatrist from Lackawanna County, did not find Olecki mentally ill to the point that he didn’t know right from wrong.

Fischbein did find that Olecki had severe mental health problems, Peppetti said.

Kagarise said that it took a long time for the case to be resolved and for he and Peppetti to come to an agreement.

He said that despite Olecki’s mental health issues, there has to be “a level of punishment and retribution.”

Although it took four years, Kagarise said the outcome shows the system worked.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.