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Man guilty in party death

Mary Pickels
| Friday, Sept. 14, 2007

An East Huntingdon man who earlier this week turned down a deal to plead guilty to third-degree murder was convicted of that charge by a jury Thursday afternoon.

Thomas Wojnarowski, 46, stood trial for first-degree murder in the Aug. 27, 2006, shooting death of Chad Bonelli, 21, of Bell.

He faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.

Prosecutors argued Wojnarowski intended to shoot and kill Bonelli, a guest at an all-night keg party at an East Huntingdon apartment building where Wojnarowski lived.

Wojnarowski did not take the stand yesterday. In his closing statement, defense attorney Brian Aston tried to convince the jury the shooting could have been accidental.

"That party was a train wreck waiting to happen," Aston said. "... Tommy is not innocent in reference to this. He has a hand in this also. But it does not mean to you that he is guilty."

Numerous witnesses who attended the party testified earlier this week that they were drinking all night, to the point where some became sick or blacked out.

Aston questioned why guests' blood-alcohol levels were not tested at the time.

The only blood-alcohol levels available, he said, were Bonelli's, which Aston said was 0.168 percent, more than twice the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle, and Wojnarowski's, at 0.22 percent.

Aston said the only threat Wojnarowski made was to call the police, after he was asked to leave the party. That threat apparently led several other guests to follow Wojnarowski to his apartment, where Bonelli was shot.

"There was not any testimony of, 'I'm going to kill you, you're all dead,'" Aston said.

"Maybe Tommy never pulls the trigger. ... A drunk fumbling with a gun. Is an accident in the realm of possibilities?" he said.

Assistant District Attorney Karen Patterson told the jury "the only reason this party was a train wreck was because of the defendant's actions. They (neighbors) were not causing trouble. Everything comes from him.

"The bottom line is this is a man who is very aggressive, very confrontational," she said. "He's combative and violent. He doesn't like to be told what to do."

Evidence showed no struggle between Bonelli and Wojnarowski, Patterson said.

"The defendant at any time could have prevented this from happening by going into his apartment and closing the door," she said. "... He made the choice to drop the weapon or pull the trigger."

Bonelli's mother, Jamie Straka, said her family had hoped Wojnarowski would take the plea deal and spare them all the trial.

"I feel bad for both sides," she said yesterday. "We both lost something. (Chad) left behind a beautiful little boy.

"I don't hate him," she said of Wojnarowski. "I have to forgive. In my heart, I promised my son I would forgive him."

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