Hunting-trip attack gets Seward man probation
By Bob Stiles
Published: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
A Westmoreland County man will serve five years on probation but no prison time in connection with the beating death of a man during a 2008 hunting trip.
Indiana County Judge William J. Martin on Wednesday further ordered Stephen Shesko, 64, of Seward, to pay $4,545 in costs and a $1,000 fine.
Earlier Wednesday, Shesko pleaded guilty to an involuntary manslaughter charge in the death of Erick Melius, 28, of Cambria County.
Melius died two days after Shesko punched and kicked him on Nov. 24, 2008, after Melius made fun of an Amish boy's hairstyle, according to court papers.
Shesko appeared in court in a wheelchair and with his legs in braces. Martin cited Shesko's declining health, age and military service in Vietnam as factors in the sentence.
“Incarceration would not be appropriate at this time,” Martin said.
The victim's father, Wyatt Melius, said he and family members expected the sentence, although in statements they read to the court, they asked Martin to impose the maximum possible sentence of five years' imprisonment.
“We knew it wasn't going to happen due to his health issues,” Melius said.
“It's been a long four years, and we're glad it's over,” he added. “Nothing's going to bring my son back. I hope Shesko is going to learn from it. My heart still cries out for my son all the time.”
District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said he and the Melius family most wanted Shesko to admit his actions led to Melius' death.
“He admitted he did it,” the prosecutor said.
“To me, that's the big thing.”
Shesko “went back” to kick Melius as he lay huddled on the ground after their initial confrontation, and that's “not acceptable within our society,” Dougherty said.
Taxpayers would have paid Shesko's medical bills if he were imprisoned, the prosecutor said.
Shesko has undergone multiple surgeries, is “100 percent disabled” and suffers from post-tramatic stress, defense attorney David J. Weaver of Johnstown told Martin.
Shesko is held in “public disgrace” for what happened in 2008, Weaver said.
As part of an agreement, Dougherty withdrew an aggravated assault charge filed against Shesko and added the involuntary manslaughter offense.
Melius, who was a passenger in a van, drove past Shesko and a group of 27 other bear hunters on Nov. 24, 2008, and yelled obscenities at the group, police said. Melius said to one Amish boy, “Nice pumpkin haircut,” witnesses told police.
Shesko saw what happened, ran up to the van and punched Melius through a window, police said.
As the van left, the man was still yelling obscenities toward the hunters, a criminal complaint stated.
The van returned five minutes later, police said. Witnesses said Melius got out from the passenger side and attempted to punch another hunter who was sitting in a truck. Shesko ran up to Melius and punched him, knocking him down. Shesko then punched and kicked Melius as he lay on the ground until other hunters pulled him away, according to court papers.
Melius and his friends drove off after the incident. Several hours later, police were contacted by Melius' father, who said his son was being treated at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown for injuries he suffered in the fight.
Melius signed himself out of the hospital that evening against medical advice and was later found dead in his home.
Shesko initially faced trial on a criminal homicide charge, but former District Attorney Thomas Bianco dropped that charge after toxicology tests indicated an overdose of an undisclosed drug contributed to Melius' death.
In court on Wednesday, Melius' father, mother, sister and girlfriend each described to Martin their frequent tears and heartache.
Wyatt Melius worked with his son building homes and planned to turn over the business to him.
He said he cried every day for a year after his son's death and continues to mourn him.
“My life will not be the same as the result of the loss of my son,” he told Martin.
Girlfriend Kayla Warzel said she has shown videos to the couple's 5-year-old daughter so she can remember her father, “but that would never compare to having him here,” she told Martin.
Erick Melius won't see his daughter graduate from high school “or walk her down the aisle,” Warzel said.
“Since Erick's death I've been Mommy and Daddy, doing the best I can, but it's not always easy,” she said. “I still cry daily.”
Sister Tracy Melius said she and her family and friends miss her brother.
“Every day we pay for the ruthless conduct of Mr. Shesko,” she said.
Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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