Man convicted of 1st-degree murder in deaths of father, son

WILKES-BARRE (AP) – Jurors rejected a self-defense argument and convicted the second defendant in the killings of an elderly man and his son last year in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The Luzerne County panel deliberated for less than three hours Friday before convicting James Roche, 33, of first-degree murder and conspiracy in the April 2014 deaths of Ronald Evans, 73, and Jeffrey Evans, 43, in Hunlock Township.

Holly Ann Crawford, 40, who denied any role in the slayings and put the blame on Roche, was also convicted of 1st-degree murder in September. Crawford gained notoriety in 2008 when she was convicted of animal cruelty for piercing kittens’ ears and necks and marketing them as “gothic.”

Authorities alleged that Roche sought a confrontation after seeing a movie with a character that reminded him of the older man, with whom Crawford had had a relationship. Officials said Roche and Crawford had been living together for much of the previous two years except when they would quarrel and Crawford would go back to Ronald Evans.

Defense attorney Paul Galante argued that his client acted in self-defense and his mind was clouded by years of chronic alcohol abuse. Roche took the stand in his own defense Thursday and said he shot Ronald Evans because the older man had aimed a revolver at him, and he later got into a fistfight with the younger man and fired when he thought the other was going for a gun.

Assistant District Attorney Mamie Phillips, however, cited witness testimony that Roche had threatened to kill Ronald Evans at least 30 times over a six- to seven-week period. Ronald Evans was shot four times and Jeffrey Evans was shot five times – and both had gunshot wounds in the back – meaning that any self-defense claim was “just not reasonable,” Phillips said.

Galante, who described his client as a “nice guy” with no previous record, said he was disappointed by the verdict and an appeal was likely.

Elaine Kukowski of Wilkes-Barre, sister of Ronald Evans and aunt of Jeffrey Evans, wept softly as the verdict was read.

“My brother and nephew will always be on my mind. I know I will be happy it’s over. It will come to me eventually. It’s hard to feel right now,” she said.