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Westmoreland

Rostraver man wants do-over of murder plea

| Friday, June 2, 2017, 5:21 p.m.
Billy Ray Boggs Jr. of Rostraver leaves his preliminary hearing before  District Judge Charles Christner on Monday, June 1, 2015. Boggs later pleaded guilty to criminal homicide and abuse of a corpse for the death of Thomas Guercio, 35, formerly of Manor.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Billy Ray Boggs Jr. of Rostraver leaves his preliminary hearing before District Judge Charles Christner on Monday, June 1, 2015. Boggs later pleaded guilty to criminal homicide and abuse of a corpse for the death of Thomas Guercio, 35, formerly of Manor.
Billy Ray Boggs Jr.
Billy Ray Boggs Jr.

A Rostraver man serving a life sentence for bludgeoning his sister's boyfriend to death wants to reconsider his plea, arguing he was coerced to plead guilty to first-degree murder to avoid the death penalty.

Billy Ray Boggs Jr. pleaded guilty in September 2015 to the March murder of Thomas Guercio, 35, after Guercio had argued with Boggs's sister. Boggs told police he'd beaten Guercio in the head with a hammer — twice, after he didn't die the first time — and stabbed him after the second hammer attack to ensure he was dead.

Boggs, 51, had filed a post-conviction relief appeal before Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway and argued Friday that he'd been “coerced” to take a plea.

Boggs' previous defense attorney, Brian Aston, said Boggs asked him about a plea at a hearing Aug. 25, 2015, but District Attorney John Peck wanted to delay any plea so he could consider whether to seek the death penalty.

“I was under the impression I was facing the death penalty because my attorney told me the DA was seeking the death penalty,” Boggs testified Friday. “He's telling me, because of my criminal record, it's in my best interest to take a plea.”

Despite floating the possibility, Peck decided not to seek the death penalty, and Boggs pleaded guilty. Hathaway gave him the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Boggs testified at his plea hearing that he killed Guercio with the intent of living the rest of his life in prison for a crime that needed to be committed, calling Guercio “the most evil person I ever met.” He apologized to Guercio's family members, who were unsatisfied.

Boggs said Friday he thought third-degree murder — lacking the specific intent to kill — would have been a more appropriate plea and said he wrote a letter to Aston immediately after his plea seeking to withdraw it. But Aston testified he received no such letter.

Aston said it was Boggs who wanted to take a plea to first-degree murder at the first hearing, but he told Boggs that he couldn't enter a plea until Peck decided whether or not to seek the death penalty. He said there was no bargaining with the prosecution, and when Peck declined to pursue the death penalty, Boggs pleaded guilty.

Hathaway did not rule Friday on Boggs' motion, but said she would take his testimony “under advisement.”

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, msantoni@tribweb.com or via Twitter @msantoni.

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