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Killer of 'Jock' Yablonski seeks release from prison

| Saturday, May 21, 2011

The last living man convicted of gunning down United Mine Workers union reformer Joseph "Jock" Yablonski, his wife and daughter in Washington County wants out of prison, arguing that he helped the government secure other convictions and has served his time.

Paul Gilly, 78, a triggerman in the 1969 deaths, filed a handwritten, 19-page request this week with Washington County Clerk of Courts Barbara Gibbs, who forwarded the documents to the state Supreme Court. Gilly, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Albion in Erie County, wrote he is a pauper who is acting as his own attorney.

"He makes me ill, and I think he's lucky he didn't get the death penalty," Joseph "Chip" Yablonski, 69, one of Jock Yablonski's sons, said Friday. "I think he's pathetic, and I hope he rots in prison."

Gilly was found guilty in 1972. One codefendant, Aubran W. Buddy Martin, known as "the baby-faced killer," died of stomach cancer in 1991 in a hospital after being transferred from prison. He told police he never fired a gun but drove the getaway car. Another, Claude Vealey, admitted his role in the killings and died of cancer in 1999 at the State Correctional Institution at Laurel Highlands in Somerset County.

In his argument for release, Gilly claims he helped secure the convictions of his codefendants. He goes on to write that Pennsylvania law says a prison "sentence is excessive if it deviates from guidelines or exceeds maximum statutory penalty" and "said maximum for felony of the first-degree sentence is twenty (20) years." He writes that since he was arrested in January of 1970, he should have been released from prison in January 1990.

Gilly goes on to claim the court imposed a sentence of "natural life" not "life sentence without parole," and says that for the past 21 years, he has been "unconstitutionally and unlawfully detained."

He wants his case to be heard by the state Supreme Court, but no hearing is scheduled. Gilly originally was sentenced to death for his crimes, but the death penalty was found to be unconstitutional and he was re-sentenced to three life terms.

Gilly was an unemployed house painter in Cleveland when Yablonski, 59, his wife, Margaret, 59, and their daughter, Charlotte, 25, were shot to death in their Clarksville home by three assassins hired by a UMW political foe.

The hit men's target was Jock Yablonski, a labor leader and reform candidate for the UMW presidency. The murders stunned the quiet community of coal miners and farmers in Clarksville, where the Yablonskis lived in a 200-year-old stone farmhouse.

Gilly cooperated as a witness in the trial against Gerald Prater, a UMW official convicted of providing money to the assassins and eventually identified as one of the those who sparked the plot to assassinate Yablonski. The codefendants split $20,000, which was found to have been embezzled from the UMW.

Gilly agreed to cooperate with the prosecution and appear as a commonwealth witness in the trial of UMW president W.A. "Tony" Boyle, who eventually was sentenced to three life terms for the Yablonski family deaths. He died in 1985.

Yablonski challenged Boyle for the UMW presidency in 1969 when Yablonski was District 5 president. Boyle defeated Yablonski on Dec. 9 by a margin of 2-to-1, and though Yablonski conceded, on Dec. 18, he asked the Department of Labor to investigate the election for possible fraud. Thirteen days later, three gunmen entered his house and opened fire.

Chip Yablonski, an attorney in Washington, was 28 when his family was killed. He was no longer living at home, but he had spent the night before in the room his sister would be killed in. He has two grown children and five grandchildren, and is retired.

"He's guilty of the most heinous crime on the books," he said. "My sister would be reaching retirement age. She never had the joy of raising her own children or seeing her own grandchildren, and that breaks my heart. Paul Gilly got to live to see 78, and he should be grateful for that. Any other years he gets to see, as far as I'm concerned, can be from behind bars."

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