Judge: Evidence supports charge

Updated: March 17, 2004, 3:54 AM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- A priest can be tried for involuntary manslaughter in the death of a Pitt football player who fell through the ceiling of a church while drunk.

Allegheny County Judge Robert Gallo ruled Tuesday that prosecutors have enough evidence to support an involuntary manslaughter charge against the Rev. Henry Krawczyk. He is accused of giving alcohol to 19-year-old Billy Gaines and five other underage men at a Roman Catholic church.

An autopsy showed Gaines was drunk when he fell while he and another Pitt player were exploring a crawl space last June. Gaines died about 20 hours after suffering head and spinal injuries from a 25-foot fall at St. Anne Church in a Pittsburgh suburb.

Prosecutors had charged Krawczyk with reckless endangerment, furnishing alcohol to minors, and involuntary manslaughter, but the manslaughter charge was dismissed last fall after the Allegheny County coroner's office ruled that Gaines' death was an unforeseeable accident.

In his ruling, Gallo disagreed.

"A reasonable person could conclude that a teenager who is under the influence of alcohol and subsequently climbs to a roof of a three-story building could easily place himself in danger," the judge said.

Gallo also said Krawczyk, who authorities said was the only person of legal drinking age and supplied the alcohol, "revealed a conscious indifference to the risks that he was aware of or should have been aware."

Robert Stewart, Krawczyk's attorney, did not immediately return a telephone message left by The Associated Press.

Involuntary manslaughter carries a prison sentence of 2½-5 years. Other charges against Krawczyk are misdemeanors punishable by as many as two years in prison.

Krawczyk resigned as pastor of the church. Gaines' family filed a $75 million civil lawsuit alleging church officials knew Krawczyk had been accused several times of giving alcohol to minors, but was not disciplined and remained in a position of contact with young people.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press