EBENSBURG - A Cambria County judge rejected a self-defense argument Tuesday from Summerhill man Gregory Russell Conzo and sentenced him to 15 to 40 years in prison for the November 2012 beating death of his former girlfriend's son.
"You took the life of the son of another of your victims," Judge Patrick Kiniry told Conzo, 51, who frequently dabbed at tears with a tissue and, at one point, buried his face in his hands when his victim's family members addressed him.
According to police, on Nov. 5, 2012, Conzo arrived at the home he shared for 22 years with his longtime girlfriend, Lois Pcola, and began arguing with her over a simple-assault sentencing he was scheduled to attend the next day.
Public Defender John Lovette said because the assault involved Lois, Conzo had hoped she would attend the sentencing and speak on his behalf.
But when her son, Michael Pcola, 37, came downstairs to intervene, police said Conzo picked up an aluminum bat and swung it twice, first hitting his 18-year-old daughter, Maria Conzo, in the arm, before striking Pcola in the head.
Pcola was transported to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, where he died two days later.
When Conzo pleaded guilty to third-degree murder at a Dec. 18 hearing, he told Kiniry he had been drinking heavily for several hours before the incident and insisted he acted in self-defense and only wanted to intimidate Michael Pcola.
"This was not the first time I feared for my life" around him, Conzo said.
But two of Pcola's sisters, Krista Pcola and Trisha Cann, urged Kiniry to see past the tears.
Both described years of verbal and emotional abuse from Conzo, which started when they were teenagers, and called him as an alcoholic, drug addict and an abusive boyfriend to their mother.
Reading through tears, Krista said Conzo broke gifts given to her and her sisters by their late father and said Conzo was jealous of any attention her mother gave to anyone but him.
"We have a life sentence living with this," she said, and Conzo "needs to pay for what he did to my brother."
She said Conzo was lying when he said he was afraid of her brother, who could have hurt Conzo "a long time ago" if he'd wanted to but never did.
"I'm not a vindictive person," she said to Conzo, "but I hope you get what you deserve."
Conzo's older brother, Michael Conzo, also addressed Kiniry. He said the Conzo family has been torn apart by the killing but told Kiniry his brother never meant to hurt anyone.
"You're not all there ... when you drink. I think everybody knows that," he said.
Before he handed down the sentence, Kiniry said Conzo always appeared humble, apologetic and remorseful in court, but a report from the county's Behavioral Health agency showed that not to be the case.
"The real you is abusive, controlling," he said.
The report recommended Conzo complete a drug and alcohol evaluation and enter a domestic violence treatment program, Kiniry said.
But because Kiniry received the report Nov. 6, the day Conzo was to be sentenced and the day after he fatally assaulted Pcola, "It looks like all of that was too late," Kiniry said.
Conzo's attorneys had been seeking the minimum sentence of 10 years, but Kiniry said he disagreed that Conzo acted in self-defense and said the Pcola family and society itself needed to be protected from Conzo.
In levying the maximum penalty, without the possibility of early parole, Kiniry told Conzo he has an anger management problem, which will be addressed in prison. And even once he's released, Kiniry said, Conzo will be supervised for the rest of his life.
Kiniry also sentenced Conzo to serve a concurrent 12- to 24-month sentence for the 2012 assault against Lois Pcola. She also will receive $1,000 of the $7,500 Conzo was ordered to pay in restitution.
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.