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Court upholds murder sentence

Opinion: No basis that Grazioli’s intoxication played role in killing

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has upheld the first-degree murder conviction and life sentence of a Erie County man who two years ago shot and killed his wife, a 2004 graduate of Altoona Area High School.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, the appeals court found that the judge in the trial of John P. Grazioli did not make a mistake when he refused to instruct the jury that voluntary intoxication could be a defense to the charge of murder in the first degree.

Grazioli, 46, contended in his February 2019 trial for the murder of his wife, Amanda Elizabeth (Schmitt) Grazioli, 31, that he had ingested alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and the anti-anxiety drug Ativan prior to the killing.

He also told the jury that on the morning of March 8, 2018, he was attempting to show his wife, who was in bed, a Glock 43 handgun he had bought for her birthday and accidentally discharged the weapon while attempting to engage the safety.

The shot that killed her was to the back of her head.

The couple had been married only a few months when the shooting occurred.

Amanda Schmitt graduated from Altoona Area High School in 2004, where she played soccer.

At the time of her death a friend, Kim (Franco) Meloy, stated, “We’re all sad to have lost such a dear friend and bright light in our lives. She was the most beautiful person, inside and out, in any room, and we’ll really miss her every day.”

She left behind a father, Tom Schmitt, a mother, Denise Katz, and three siblings, Brandon, Vanessa and Allison.

Erie County Judge Daniel J. Brabender in his opinion stated: “Crucially missing from (Grazioli’s) trial testimony and his argument on appeal is evidence of impairment to such a degree that he lost all ‘faculty and sensibility’ and was completely overwhelmed or overpowered by alleged intoxicants.”

The judge, in reviewing the testimony stated Grazioli, recalled in detail what occurred just before the killing.

The evidence during the trial was that Grazioli had purchased a handgun about two weeks prior to the killing.

Three days later he allegedly told his ex-wife, Erica, he was “getting (Amanda) out of our lives.”

She assumed he was talking about serving divorce papers.

No evidence was ever located that showed he had obtained divorce papers or sought advice from an attorney concerning a divorce.

After the killing, he admitted to his ex-wife what he had done and threatened to kill himself.

Erica Grazioli asked a co-worker to report Grazioli’s remarks to Millcreek Township police and upon checking the Grazioli home, officers found Amanda’s body in bed with the covers over her head.

Also on the morning of the killing, Grazioli emailed his children, who were staying with his ex-wife, put the family dogs in basement cages and left instructions as to his will.

He then ate lunch and went to Mass at an Erie church.

When he was arrested at 4 p.m. March 8, Grazioli showed no signs of intoxication, according to testimony by a Millcreek Township police officer.

The veteran officer said Grazioli had no slurred speech, no impaired movement, no apparent illness and displayed no odor of alcohol.

The judge stated, “The vast majority of evidence presented at trial clearly showed that (Grazioli) committed the killing as a result of a preconceived plan, as opposed to a temporary, drug-induced haze.”

“There was insufficient evidence to require the Court to give the jury Appellant’s desired jury instruction,” he concluded.

The Superior Court opinion, written by Judge Daniel D. McCaffery, stated, “We find no basis to conclude the trial court abused its discretion by denying Appellant’s request for a voluntary intoxication or diminished capacity jury instruction.”

Judge Dan Pellegrini joined the opinion while Judge Maria McLaughlin filed a concurring opinion emphasizing Grazioli provided some evidence he was intoxicated, but there no evidence presented of any source of his intoxication, let alone that he was “intoxicated to the extent of ‘losing his faculties and sensibilities.'”

Grazioli was sentenced to life without parole plus 10 to 20 years on charges of murder in the first degree, carrying a firearm without a license, possession of an instrument of crime, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person.

He is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview.

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